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Megan’s Musings: Cold Weather Enrichment

duke cold weather 2Duke and Mya dressed for it and  loving the snow

Enrichment can be defined as the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something. For our dogs, this means improving their quality of life through various activities and/or experiences that improve their physical and/or psychological health. This is important for our dogs year-round, but in places where winter weather happens for a good portion of the year, it is critical that we address enrichment needs for our pets when they cannot get outside as often or for as long.

During the colder months when we are getting out less, we can begin to see frustration and arousal increase in our dogs. It is important for us to remember that our dogs are still needing adequate exercise and mental stimulation. Without this, our dogs may find ways to entertain themselves and drain their energy and we have no one to blame but ourselves. I’ve put together a list of ideas to keep your dog busy all while improving your relationship, increasing their training and having fun together! For our reactive dogs, the world becomes quieter for them which is great, but we do not want to slow down the progress we’ve made in training, so some of these ideas will keep them moving forward.

Games:
Playing games with your dogs not only helps enhance your relationship, but they can be an excellent physical outlet and provide mental stimulation. Not to mention, they are a lot of fun for both of you!

Hide-n-Seek:
This is one of my personal favourites that you can play anywhere with your dog. Have them hold a stay, run and hide and then call them to come find you. Keep it simple when you are first introducing the game and start in a smaller space. If your dog is struggling to find you, help them by making noises. Once they understand this game, they become pros! So much fun for both of you and will get your dogs running and thinking!

Stair Races:
If your dog is in need of a good energy drain, this is a simple way to provide some physical exercise. Cue your dog to run up and down the stairs. Monitor them to ensure they are not pushing too hard or they do not go so fast that they trip up and fall, especially for young dogs who are still growing or seniors. This can be great exercise for older dogs, as long as you keep it slow and do not overdo it. For an added mental stimulation challenge, vary the speed and have them practice skills at the top/bottom.

Obstacle Courses:
These can be done anywhere in the house and can always be changing. Have them crawl under tables or chairs, jump over various items, weave around furniture, walk on different surfaces and anything else you can think of! Vary their speed and really get them focused and thinking about the items they are interacting with. Or set it up like agility and see how fast they can complete the course!

Board Games:
There are a range of board games you can find on Amazon that you can play with your dog such as “Do You Mind?”, “My Dog Can Do That” or “Funagle.” These are fun for the whole family and have a wide range of activities, training skills and more that you can do with your dog.

I’m Gonna Getcha!
This is basically tag with my dogs. When we just need to drain some pent up energy and have fun together, I hold my hands up like I’m going to grab them and say “I’m gonna getcha!’. It can be great for training impulse control as well because the game stops if their teeth hit my skin or they jump on me. We also take settle breaks and then jump up and chase each other around again only when I say “I’m gonna getcha!”.

Nosework:
The benefits to nosework activities are endless. These games provide physical and mental stimulation, but also builds confidence and decreases arousal. I love to play find it and treasure hunt games with my dogs. I start off simple with find it with a treat in one of my hands, to simple find it exercises in a small space and then build it up to a larger area. You can do this with their meals or have them find a stuffed kong. The possibilities are endless. A quick google search for indoor nosework games, will provide you with a large variety of fun nosework activities you can play with your dog.

kate-56791Keep those brains working in the cold weather

Interactive Toys:
It is wonderful how many interactive toys for dogs there are nowadays. These are excellent enrichment tools as they provide great mental stimulation outlets and can keep your dog focused and entertained for hours. In an ideal world, we would feed all of our dogs’ meals from interactive toys and this is especially important during the colder months. Interactive toys are also ideal for times when you need to keep your dog busy, during activities such as Halloween or opening gifts at Christmas. This is just a small list of some of my favourites, but test a range of them to see what you and your dog like best! Keep your dog supervised for any that can easily be chewed.

Kong:
A classic that is versatile and durable. Stuff these with your dog’s meals, favourite treats or google Kong recipes for a range of ideas to keep these new and interesting for your dogs. My favourite option is to stuff them and freeze them to make them last that much longer. Turn this into a game by playing find it with your dog’s stuffed kongs. There are a wide range of interactive toys on the market including some of my favourites: the Busy Buddy line, the must-have Kong Wobbler and Hide-a-Squirrel!

Puzzles:
There are more and more puzzles for dogs coming onto market every day. Support your favourite pet supply store or check out online options like Amazon to find puzzles for your dog. My favourites are the Nina Ottoson puzzles. They range in difficulty, are durable and can be used a variety of ways. There are also a variety of food bowls that make eating more interactive and can work like a puzzle. Check out the range of options we have in store!

Snuffle Mat:
These are currently taking the world by storm! Easy to make and can keep your dog busy for a good length of time. These are mats with pieces of fleece bits where food is scattered and the dog must work to find it. The dog must use their nose and some food can be difficult for them to get out, so does require problem solving as well. You can find these in stores or online, or do a quick google search and make your own at home! While you are at it, check out the other great ideas you can find online for homemade interactive toys for your dogs using simple things such as muffin tins!

New Items:
You can continue to socialize your dog indoors by introducing them to new items. Provide extra enrichment by changing the environment and letting your dog interact with new items. These can be cleaning equipment, large empty water bottles, moving items, things that make noise and anything else you can find that is safe and new to your dog.

Training:
The cold weather does not mean that training stops. We can increase our indoor training through the ideas I’ve listed below to ensure our dog is still receiving additional mental/physical stimulation, continuing to progress through their skills and still getting the needed work as part of their behaviour modification plan.

Work on Skills:
You can still do distraction training indoors through sounds, people, other pets and moving items. Practice in new places, with you in different positions and even out of sight! Add distractions, duration and find ways to challenge your dog and proof up their training. Introduce new skills such as drop on recall, finish or skills at a distance/out of sight. Keep up with your training and provide additional mental stimulation by practicing and proofing your dog’s skills throughout the day.

Tricks:
Tricks are so much fun for both you and your dog and are a great way to provide additional physical and mental stimulation. Take a tricks class, order a book or look up videos online for a never-ending list of tricks that you can work on with your dog!

Real World Training:
You may not be out in the real world as much, but that does not mean training needs to stop! Work on overall manners, handling and socialization. Practice doorbell and table manners, work on jumping, and continue impulse control exercises such as leave it with high value items. Do not forget to continue working on handling and socialization exercises. Continue practicing grooming exercises, putting items on and off your dog, and introduce them to new sounds (on tv or your computer) and items. Have people over and get them involved as long as your dog is comfortable.

Summary
Do not succumb to the winter blues. Continue to focus on creative ways to keep your dog(s) exercised and provide enrichment. In turn, your dog will be more settled and focused and you can enjoy cuddling up over the colder days together more. The winter months are also a great time to get your dog into classes. Continue your urbanK9 training or participate in our wide range of clinics to ensure your dog is continuing to progress on their training. Have fun and stay warm!

Do you have other ways you provide your dog enrichment? Or do you have some fun games that you play? Please share in the comments below!

Megan’s Musings: Halloween: Less Tricks, More Treats

halloween2

The world can be scary for our dogs on any given day due to the variety of new situations, people or objects they can run into. Many of our holidays are stressful and potentially scary for dogs, but Halloween is one that can be just as scary for dogs as it is for some people. All of the sudden, dogs are faced with strange things on lawns that may move or make noises, bizarre looking creatures they have never seen before and there is a lot of excitement in the air that can make them nervous. However, Halloween does not need to be scary for your dog! In fact, this is a great opportunity for training and socialization. In this post, I am going to share some of the key areas you should focus on for preparing your dog to ensure everyone can have a safe and happy Halloween! Fill this Halloween with more treats and less tricks for your dog!

Costumes
Seeing your dog in a costume may be too cute to resist, but could actually be quite stressful and unenjoyable for them. Do not just put a costume on your dog right before taking them out in it. Take the time to slowly introduce the costume to ensure they are comfortable to wear it and to avoid them fussing at it and trying to remove it.

  1. At first, let you dog investigate the costume; let them approach, smell it and touch the material. Reward them with small treats for these interactions and to begin introducing it as a positive item.
  2. If there are multiple parts of the costume, put one piece on at a time. Reward your dog with treats, praise calmly and start with only short intervals.
  3. Ensure your dog is comfortable and does not fuss. If at anytime, they fuss or show signs of stress, you are putting the item on too quickly or for too long. Take your time with this as you slowly introduce the costume to your dog.
  4. If you are not making progress, talk with your trainer, try another costume or just realize they may be ready for a costume yet this year. By listening to your dog and working at their pace, you will see much more progress over their lifetime then you will if you try to force them into being comfortable.

Decorations
Halloween has become a time when people are filling their yards with new and scary decorations. All of these new items suddenly appearing on the neighbourhood walks can be overwhelming for your dog. And do not forget about the impact the decorations in your yard may have. It may seem amusing and silly to us, but for your dogs, these can create extreme stress and anxiety. Be sure to take the time to slowly introduce your own decorations and pair them with food rewards to ensure your dog is comfortable with all of them.

For decorations at your home:

  1. Ensure they are powered off and place them a safe distance away from your dog. Reward your dog with treats for approaching the items and toss treats towards them if they are too nervous to approach.
  2. Work at your dog’s pace and do short sessions. Take the time to introduce the decorations, especially with any that move or make sound, so that they do not startle your dog and cause them to be even more afraid of them.
  3. Be sure to take the time to introduce decorations appropriately before putting them up in your home or yard. Reward frequently, keep sessions short and work at your dog’s pace.
  4. If they are too nervous of an item, do not put the item out or keep it at a distance your dog is comfortable with. Work with the other decorations and continue to socialize your dog so that they may be more comfortable for future Halloweens.

For decorations when you are out on walks:

  1. Cross the street if you dog is nervous, and work at a distance they are comfortable with. Reward them for looking at the decorations, offering you attention and if they approach.
  2. If they are unsure, lay a trail of treats to get closer, but do not rush to get right up to the decoration on the first attempt.
  3. Take your time, keep sessions short and ensure your dog is comfortable and taking treats.
  4. If they are too nervous, avoid these houses until after Halloween when the decorations have been put away and work on ones that your dog is not so nervous with.

Trick-or-Treaters
Having the doorbell ring all night with strange creatures on the other side can be a terrifying experience for your dog. Even if your dog is not scared of the trick-or-treaters, it can be a frustrating time for you if your dog becomes too excited with the doorbell. Children may also be scared of dogs, so it is important that your dog is not at the door to greet them when you first open the door. The first step to ensure success is to teach door manners by following the below steps:

  1. Ring the doorbell (your dog can see you do this as they are likely to still get excited).
  2. Cue the dog to go to their kennel or behind their gate and lure them to their spot. Do not physically pull them, but lure them. Drop treats on the ground, if needed, to keep them moving. It may take a while at first, but with practice, it will quickly speed up! *Note: your dog must be kennel trained or comfortable behind a gate. If not, please read our post on Alone Training.
  3. Toss the treats in the kennel or behind the gate, and close the door/gate behind them.
  4. Walk away and wait for your dog to settle. Stay out of sight and ignore all barking or whining. If this it too much for your dog, start with just closing the gate, rewarding your dog and letting them back out. Slowly build up the time and distance and then being able to walk out of sight.
  5. Once your dog settles, walk back to them (turn and walk away if they begin to bark/whine again). Let the dog out and completely ignore them and go about your business. We want to teach them that coming out is no big deal. The good stuff happens behind the gate and we want them coming out in a calm manner.
  6. Repeat until your dog happily goes behind the gate/into their kennel and is calm. Expect that you will always have some initial barking, but the dog should quickly go to their spot when they hear the doorbell versus running to the door.
  7. Repeat all of the above with family members or people your dog knows and is comfortable with coming to the front door and ringing the doorbell. Have family members do this every time they come home and set this up with friends/family who your dog knows and is comfortable with.
  8. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!

For introducing your dog to costumes:

  1. This can be difficult to fully prepare for as there will be such a range of children and costumes coming to your dog, so be sure to follow the above door manners steps.
  2. You can prepare your dog by putting on various costume items and pairing them with food rewards. Reward your dogs for all good behaviour and if they approach and/or investigate what you are wearing.
  3. If they are too nervous to approach, take the item off and place it on the floor to start. Be sure to reward your dog for looking at and/or approaching the item.
  4. Have a variety of people put on costumes and show them as many new items as possible and then practice with them coming in the door after ringing the doorbell.
  5. Remember to keep your sessions short, reward frequently and work at your dog’s pace!

Treats
To keep our dogs safe, we must ensure that Halloween treats are out of their reach! Ingredients such as chocolate and xylitol (and artificial sweetener) can not only make our dogs sick, but can also be fatal. Do not risk it and always keep treats put away somewhere safe where you can be guaranteed they cannot get them. Wrappers can also cause blockage or be fatal to our dogs if they ingest them, so ensure you throw them out as soon as you unwrap any of your delicious treats! Don’t forget to get some special dog goodies for your dog to enjoy over the Halloween holiday as well!

Fearful dog?
Take them away from all of the activity if possible. If you are staying home with them, turn off all the lights so trick-or-treaters are unlikely to come to your door and enjoy time with your dog tucked in for the evening. Before the busy night of trick-or-treaters, take them out to open spaces for a nice walk at their pace and avoid the busy neighbourhood. On Halloween night, provide them with chew bones and/or stuffed kongs to keep them busy. Avoid letting them out in the backyard or supervise them if you do. Make it a goal to help your dog and get them into fearful dog classes and work with a reward-based trainer this year!

Is your dog nervous of decorations or costumes?
Work at their pace. If they are not comfortable with something this year, use it as a goal for the next year. Put it away and work on making them comfortable with other items in the house and outside at a distance they are comfortable with. Remember that the risk of rushing is too great, so take your time and/or work with a reward-based trainer!

Do you have a social dog you want to involve in the festivities?
If your have your dog at the door or out trick-or-treating, be sure to give them breaks. Make sure they have been exercised that day, but provide structured and focused exercise along with mental stimulation so they are not aroused/over-tired. Reward them for all good behaviour and ensure they are comfortable. If they show calming signals/signs of stress, take them home or put them in another room. Pay attention and be aware of how your dog is feeling. And if they are comfortable and behaving well, be sure to reward them frequently, so that they can enjoy Halloween with you for many years to come.

Happy Halloween everyone! Thank you for helping make it a safe and fun one for both you and your dogs!

Megan’s Musings: Beyond Dog Daycare – What is Day School?

bam

A few months ago I wrote a post discussing if daycare was right for every dog. We know that it is not and help owners make the right choices for their dogs. Since day one, dogma has operated with this question at all times: what is the best choice for each dog to ensure their behavioural and emotional well-being? The answer to this question is our priority and it never gets undermined by convenience for team, our profits or the desires of the dog owner. Dogs cannot tell us how they feel, however, we have the most experience and knowledge in Calgary to understand how they feel when they are with us and be their voice.

As a dog lover, I have always made it my mission to do the best for our dogs. They are our family and are now more integrated into our human world then ever before. And that presents challenges for the general public, dog owners and the dogs. As a business owner, I am always looking for ways to improve and challenge the status quo through enhancing the lives of dogs. I hold this quote very close to my heart: “You know, the truth is this: it is a leader’s job to challenge the status quo. And when you do, you make enemies.” by Carly Fiorina. I am not out to make enemies, but instead want to see the dog care and training industry rise up. To improve. To do better for our dogs. And sometimes that doesn’t make everyone happy. But, I know anyone who is reading this loves their dog(s). They are your family and you want what is right for them. The good news? We have created some exciting new programs, that will become our norm, to set the standards even higher. Below, I outline areas that need to improve in our industry and the ways we just keep making things better for dogs in Calgary.

Minimum standards:
There are a few simple ways we could improve the lives of dogs as a whole in the industry and ensure that daycare is a way to improve the behaviour of dogs and keep them safe. Did you know that anyone can open a dog care/training facility and there are no requirements outside of having a business license? In many places, there are a set of regulations that a facility must uphold in order to operate. We, like many others, would rather see these come from those who are working hard within the industry to ensure businesses can remain sustainable. But, there are a few simple things that can help ensure the behavioural and emotional well-being of dogs and keep them safe.

Play group sizes: Sure, it looks fun when there are large groups of dogs running around and playing, but too often this can be detrimental to a dog due to arousal concerns and stress. It also jeopardizes the safety of the dogs as arousal will lead to more conflict and puts the dogs at a higher risk of fighting. And if they do, there are too many dogs to manage which puts the dogs at even more risk of inflicting serious damage. For this reason, play groups sizes should be no more than 15 dogs and should have a minimum of one trained team member supervising 100% of the time.

Segregated by size: At dogma, we agree that dogs must be socialized with dogs of all sizes. However, daycare is a more stimulating environment and the risk of injury during play increases. Mixing small and big dogs into this greatly increases the potential for injury and even death. We have had multiple deaths and severe injuries in the city of Calgary due to large and small dogs being together in play groups. The risk is too high and this should only be done within very small groups of dogs with a certified trainer supervising.

Staff Training: Every facility has staff training for their dog daycare attendants. The concern is that it does not mean they are learning about canine communication and/or behaviour, so will not have the knowledge required to ensure all the dogs are enjoying their playtime. And this training may focus on punishing the dogs. Using physical corrections in any situation is not the right approach, but using it in a stimulating situation like dog daycare adds unnecessary stress to the dogs, which puts the dogs at a higher risk of conflict.

Downtime: We have all heard the term open-concept or cage-free. We agree that dogs should have the opportunity to be out playing with their friends and investigating their surroundings. We also agree that they should be out playing with their buddies far more than they should be confined. However, we do not agree that leaving dogs out to run and play, without downtime, is the right choice for the dogs. This would be like leaving children out for recess all day. There would be some children that would be beyond exhaustion, some would be cranky, some would be wired and unruly and there would be an increase in conflict amongst the children. This is no different for dogs. Giving dogs space and time away from all of the activity is crucial for their emotional and behavioural well-being. This may take some extra work, but is something that should be a regular part of a dog’s day.

Certified Reward-Based Trainers: At dogma, we are always learning and keeping up with our education on canine behaviour. As a part of this, we are always implementing new ways to conduct training and dog play and ensure we are improving each dog’s behaviour. As well, our education ensures we have the knowledge to understand how a dog may be feeling in a dog playgroup situation. We recognize signs of stress, can interrupt conflict before it happens and ensure the dogs are in the correct group of dogs with a similar playstyle so that everyone enjoys themselves. Without this training, staff would be missing a lot of important information to keep the dogs happy and safe, they could be punishing dogs for appropriate behaviour and/or creating behaviour problems in many dogs as they are not receiving the guidance they need and would have to respond in the only way they know how to ensure they stay safe. There should be a minimum requirement for training, and ideally, facilities should have a certified reward-based trainer on staff.

Dayschool at dogma:
At dogma, we are always looking for ways that we can make the experience at dayschool better for the dogs, and in turn, for the dog owners. The largest part of this is that we take the time to get to know each dog in our care and do our best to provide the set up and training to help make the dog successful in our human world. This approach requires that we can provide the right program and have the commitment from the dog owner to be consistent in the training and follow the program outside of dogma. We know we are lucky to have the best clients and appreciate how we all share this common goal for our dogs.

In our efforts to continue to set the standards in the dog care and training industry, we are always improving our programs and finding new ways to enhance the dayschool experience. We started reviewing what would the ideal set up for dogs and have been working hard at testing how this would operate. After months of hard work from the team and many of the dogs in our care, we are thrilled to be starting dogma’s Private School! This will consist of kinderPUPS, dogmaHigh and dogmaU. Dogs will work in small groups where they are provided structured training, enrichment and play as they work towards becoming ideal urbanK9s. This will help dog owners to ensure their dogs can integrate successfully into their families, feel confident that their dog will be a safe and well-behaved citizen and that they have team of trainers to support them throughout their dog’s life.

As this industry progresses, people are moving towards a more activity-based and structured daycare solution that dogma has been providing since the beginning. We are taking this a step forward and introducing the first of it’s kind official dog dayschool. Watch for exciting announcements coming soon and exclusive offers for existing dogma clients. We know you will share in our excitement at what this means for the dogs in our care. We cannot wait for this new program and hope as we continue to set the standards in the dog care and training industry, we raise the minimum requirements as well.

What would you like to see at a dayschool for your dogs? What is important for your dog’s growth and development to becoming an urbanK9? What do you expect from a dog daycare? Comment and share below!

 

Megan’s Musings: What Dog Training Needs

chihuahua leash walking city small

When most people think of dog training, they picture dogs doing long stays, walking right beside their owner looking up at them and coming when called. It is this serious area where we view the dogs as little trick producing animals that stay out of trouble. Traditionally, the focus has always been on the technical skill. Although, this is still important, our relationship with dogs has changed. They have become a loved family member that share our houses and takes part in most of our activities. We have built off-leash parks and have strict leash laws. We hear more about dog bites and talk about being their leaders.

We need to teach obedience skills, but we must apply them to real world settings and teach our dogs what is expected of them. We must take the time to socialize them and introduce them to our busy human environment. This cannot just be done in the classroom over 6-8 weeks and it cannot start in the outside world with large groups of dogs.

Obedience skills are a necessary part of training, but there is so much more that we need to be teaching our dogs. This is what we do best at dogma and what we want to see happen everywhere for our companion dogs. In this post, I am going to share how to go far beyond obedience training to develop an ideal urbanK9; a confident and well-mannered dog that excels in our urban world and human families.

Beyond Obedience Skills 
Yes, your dog needs to learn how to walk nicely on leash, to come when called and have good attention. We do recommend having at least one position cue and teaching them potential life-saving skills such as leave it. At dogma, we do not teach obedience skills to just order our dogs around. We teach them the skills so we can show them what to do instead of any behaviours we want to discourage. For example, for jumping we focus on teaching the dog to sit nicely to earn attention. Our training goes so much further and is reliable because we focus on teaching the dog what to do and show them how to gain rewards for it.

Obedience training is the foundation of manners training and helping your dog with impulse control. This means that we teach them what skill to do in a situation where they are excitable. This in turn teaches manners and helps them manage their self-control. By putting obedience skills to use in real world settings, you create more reliable and long-lasting behaviour. But our number one reason is safety. Having a good recall could prevent your dog from getting lost or being hit by a car. Having a solid sit stay may prevent your dog from running out a door. Or, your dog understanding leave it could prevent them from ingesting something fatal. Focus on what the skills teach the dog, not just about teaching the skill itself.

Socialization 
That’s right, socialization goes well beyond puppyhood. Why do we stop getting our dogs out and focusing on introducing them to the overload of new sounds, sights, objects, surroundings and activities in our busy human world? Training should always focus on getting dogs out into our urban environments throughout their lives. We get into the habit of walking them at the same places and taking them out to the same areas. This can create over-excitement when you take them to new places as everything is so new and interesting and they are not used to new situations. By ensuring you get them out and continue socializing them, you help build their confidence, lower their arousal levels and prevent over-exuberance concerns.

Socialization is also where we can start truly applying the obedience skills that we have taught them and enhancing their self-control and manners. It should also involve teaching them how to properly interact with other dogs and how to appropriately greet them. But, don’t stop there! Introduce them to other animals, a wide variety of people and children, moving objects, things that make noise and new surroundings and activities. The best part about urban training is that you get out with your dog! While you can focus on exposing them to their surroundings, you are exploring new places together and bonding.

Relationship Building 
This is the largest focus of our training program. It’s about providing you the confidence in handling your dog and building mutual trust. That’s the best part with reward-based training; it’s about having fun and enjoying the training. It’s about learning together and minimizing stress. We are focusing on what to teach the dog and how to be successful in our human world. It is not about punishing the dog for making mistakes. It is not about misinterpreting behaviour concerns with ideas that our dogs are being dominant or stubborn. It’s about working together in a productive and life-long relationship. It’s about understanding that they are part of our human world and families, but are not humans. Most of their natural behaviour is what we deem as problem behaviour. Many of our urban settings are full of potentially scary or new items for them. So, let’s go beyond obedience training and create training relationships with the goal to truly help our canine companions. Whether you have a new puppy, an excitable adolescent dog or a reactive/fearful dog, the training needs to focus on real world settings and getting them comfortable in our human world. Training and socialization should always be happening, but it should be fun for you both.

Is there anything else you think we should focus on with dog training? Is there an obedience skill that you taught your dog that came in handy in a real-world setting? Do you have any challenges that you need addressed? Comment below!

Megan’s Musings: 3 Steps for a Successful Spring

dog in pink rainboots smallSpring should be fun for your dog

Spring is a time of new growth, more sunshine, warmer temperatures and more people getting outdoors to enjoy the change in seasons. It is generally a happy time that we look forward to. However, Spring can be scary for our dogs. It begins to get busier outside with much more activity from people, animals and machinery. It is easy to forget the impact this can have on our dogs, so this month I am going to share some ideas on how to ensure your dog can enjoy the Spring season as much as you do. Follow these steps to ensure you can both be ready for a Summer full of fun activities together!

Go Slow
On a warmer day, life outside is busy. There is a lot of energy as people are excited to be out and enjoying the weather. Nature responds the same way and the wildlife becomes more active. Along with this, skateboards, bicycles, strollers, motorbikes, lawnmowers, sprinklers and so many more machines start to appear. All of these things are normal and many of us enjoy this extra activity. However, all of this can be new and scary to your dog, who may be used to quiet walks or time outside where they may only see the odd person or dog.

Work at your dog’s pace and do not rush out to all of the busyness at first. Start by going at slower times of the day; typically earlier in the morning or late evening. Go to places with lots of space and work at a greater distance at first. Even if your dog has seen all the seasonal changes before, work on offered attention at a distance your dog is comfortable with to start. At dogma, we always encourage dog owners to be proactive versus reactive. This means ensuring your dog views all of these changes as a positive, and is still comfortable with them, before immersing them right in the middle of it all.

Pay Attention to Your Dog
In order for you to know your dog’s comfort level and to ensure you are going at their pace, you need to understand your dog’s body language and pay attention to them. As the season gets busier, and you are going out at quieter times, be sure to watch them and their reaction to the new activities and surroundings. I’ve outlined some key things to watch for below:

  • Calming signals: These can be ways for your dog to calm themselves when they are feeling unsure. Some common ones you may see during Spring are sniffing, shake offs, tongue flicks or yawning. We have a full post on calming signals that cover these in more details.
  • Signs of stress: Stress does not always have to be bad stress, but it is important to understand when your dog may be responding to the extra activity to ensure you are taking it slow. Watch for excessive panting, shedding or dander, sweaty paws and lowered body language (tail tucked, ears pinned back, weight shifted back and head down).
  • The four f’s of stress: These are signs that your dog is overwhelmed and needs some space to slow down and feel more comfortable.
    • Flight: If it is too busy, or something startles your dog like a skateboard, they may try to flee the situation.
    • Fight: This is the same as the above situation, except your dog may be on leash so they feel like they cannot escape. In this case, they may react by barking, lunging or snapping. They feel cornered and are stressed, so they need space.
    • Fool around: This can appear like your dog is distracted or behaving in a silly manner. If they are struggling with their focus and moving quickly, it is a sign that they are over-stimulated and need some space and a quiet area to gain their focus.
    • Freeze: They may move slowly or not want to move at all.

If any of these happen, you are too close and need to give your dog space. Contact a reward-based trainer or email training@dogmatraining.com for assistance. Do not hope this will go away on its own, set your dog up for success and help them feel comfortable. Be sure to attend our Dog Talk seminar if you want to learn more about your dog’s body language.

Give them breaks
Don’t keep placing your dog into the new activity every day. If you feel like it is a lot for them, it is ok if they do not get out every day. Play brain games, provide them with interactive toys or chew bones and do some extra training with them if you decide not to walk them. Ensure they are getting enough sleep and give them quiet time in between walks. As the outdoor world gets busier, it will add to your dog’s arousal levels. This elevated state will have their adrenaline levels increased and it is important you give them time to settle. This is the same for when you are out on walks with them. Give them time to smell their surroundings and keep a slower pace. Practice offered attention and work on their focus to help keep them thinking. Monitor arousal levels and keep walks short to start.

If your dog has not experienced Spring in the urban environment or if they have fearful/reactive tendencies, I would suggest that you get to classes or work with a trainer to ensure you can introduce things in a controlled environment. Our urbanK9 classes focus on ensuring your dog can be successful in our busy human world. We also have a wide range of clinics to assist with this. Summer is a time to strengthen your relationship and enjoy life with your dog. A few simple steps now can ensure it will be one of the best ones yet!

Do you have other ways you ensure Spring is a successful time for your dog? What are your favourite activities to do together in the warmer weather? Please comment below!

Megan’s Musings: How We Stress Out Our Dogs

scared shepherdHow we can make our dogs feel from our own actions

It’s true. Nervous owners are more likely to have nervous dogs. This study released last month confirmed something dog trainers have suspected for years. We get nervous which causes our dogs to get nervous, and when our dogs are nervous, we get nervous. It becomes a vicious circle. It is challenging for everyone involved when our own fears/anxieties affect our dogs, but even the most confident person can put unnecessary stress on their dog. Through training and understanding the impact our actions have on our dogs, we can create confident and happy dogs and help ourselves at the same time. Let’s cover some of the main ways we stress out our dogs and how avoiding these will help to lessen our anxieties as well.

Showing frustration when your dog behaves like a dog
This is likely one of the most common things pet owners do and one that causes a great deal of confusion for our dogs. Think of a new puppy who has just been brought into your home. Everything is new to them and they are going to explore. As they explore, they find a new object, so being a dog, they explore it with their mouth and chew on it. It just so happens that it is your shoe. Suddenly, they are interrupted by this new human yelling, grabbing them roughly and throwing them outside. What have they learned? Did they learn not to chew on your items? No, they have just learned to be scared of you. They will be full of anxiety and confusion as they try to navigate this busy human world and learn what they should or should not be doing while having to avoid your anger. And they have to navigate this without getting any clear direction on what they should be doing. That is stressful.

Now think of an older dog. They are running and having fun at the off-leash park with their friends. Someone throws a ball (their favourite!) and they run after it. Their owner yells their name and a strange word ‘come’ that they have heard occasionally, but they are too focused on the ball to even register the cue. They chase after the ball and run around with it and their new friend. Suddenly, they hear their owner’s angry tone, they get grabbed harshly and the leash gets clipped back on. They head out of the park and their owner is frustrated and angry with them and they have no idea why. They were playing happily and suddenly when their owner appeared, things turned bad. What have they learned now? What feelings are they likely to experience when they are having fun and their owner appears?

Exerting physical punishment 
This ties into the above section. Take all of the above and pair it with physical punishment. What does that do? It creates more fear of the owner and even more stress as the dog does not always know why he is being punished. A dog may learn to be compliant in the sense that they do not do much when the owner is around and that they stay close to avoid punishment, but they are doing so under stress and are nervous about what type of punishment they may receive.

How do we avoid this then? We must understand that they are dogs and they are going to do dog things. Most things that we deem behaviour problems are normal dog behaviours. The frustration we feel adds stress to our lives, so both us and our dogs are better off if we instead learn to properly train our dogs and teach them about our busy human world. It is our responsibility to socialize and train them. If they are not listening, it is because we have not done our job training them, so we have no right to punish them. If it is a struggle for you, contact a reward-based trainer who can help you better train your dog so that you can both enjoy your time together and avoid the frustration all together.

Thinking in terms of dominance 
Your dog jumped on you? Dominance! Your dog barked at another dog? Dominance! Ran out the door ahead of you? Definitely dominance! We have all heard these. It seems like nowadays we attribute all of our dog’s behaviour problems or lack of training skills to dominance. First off, if it were as simple as you needing to be a better leader and not let your dog dominate you, I wouldn’t have a job. Secondly, we would not want to live with these animals if they spent their entire time trying to dominate us. They do not think this way and every single concern you will have with your dog comes down to a training issue, never dominance. So, forget about how they must respect you and instead focus on a relationship of mutual respect. You must learn how your dog communicates, spend the time training and socializing them and teaching them the world is a safe and positive place. If you struggle, contact a reward-based trainer who can help you better train your dog. Are you starting to see a trend here? Training your dog really does alleviate so much frustration and stress for both of you. Training through modern and reward-based methods enhances your relationship, and unlike punishment based training, it reduces stress and anxiety, instead of increasing it.

Forcing them into scary situations 
A final point on aversive methods and things we may do that create fear and aggression in our dogs; forcing them into something that frightens them. This can be as simple as making them say hello to someone they are unsure of, or perhaps forcing them into a group of dogs when they are afraid. Or perhaps we laugh at them barking at a new lawn decoration on our walk and force them up to it to see that it is safe. By forcing our dogs we are showing them that we are not to be trusted when a scary thing is around and we can actually increase their fear and anxieties. The solution? Don’t do it. Use food rewards to show them that these items are not scary and work at your dog’s pace.

Being inconsistent
Let’s say you decide that your dog cannot go on the bed (as an fyi, all of my dogs come on the bed and our time together snuggling is one of our favourite activities). Then one day you are sick and feeling sorry for yourself, so you invite your dog up for snuggles. It is a wonderful bonding time for you both. A few days later, you lie down in bed, your dog jumps up to join you, tail-wagging and so excited for more snuggles. Instead, you yell at them to get off the bed. Now let’s say you are working on your dog not jumping. We have not been consistent and let the dog jump occasionally and greet them cheerfully. One day we come out dressed up for an event and your dog comes in with muddy feet and jumps on you. They get yelled at and sent behind a gate to be isolated. Can you see how this is confusing for your dog? Do you understand how all of this creates high levels of stress and anxiety in our dogs? How do you avoid it? Be consistent. Doing so will make things clear for both of you and eliminates a huge amount of stress.

white sad dog head down smallDon’t leave your dog feeling unsure and nervous

Worrying about all stress 
One of the most common traits I have seen working with nervous dog owners is that they over-stress. They become anxious and over-protective of their dogs for any sign of stress. Dogs are going to face stress in their lives, so it is important that we teach them how to cope and work through their fears. If we always avoid the bad things completely or stop as soon the dog shows minimal signs of stress, they will never learn how to cope when something stressful happens. It is much easier to just avoid the scary thing for everyone, because in doing so, we need to face our fears and will experience some discomfort. I can understand why this is more difficult for nervous owners as they become stressed when their dog stresses and we get caught up in that vicious circle again.

This one becomes harder to solve, but the rewards for working through this are immeasurable. At first, we need to address our own stress. By becoming aware of your own signs of stress (trust me, if your dog could talk, they would have no problem identifying these as they are a cue that something scary is about to happen) you can begin to work on yourself. The key is to both work through your stress vs always avoiding it. You must begin to see changes and progress and can only do so when you really face the things that cause the anxiety. It is never about forcing a dog or putting them into situations that are too much for them, but to experience real progress, you must move past just managing the behaviour and work through the concern.

To help your dog, start working on your own anxiety. Identify your signs of stress, take time to settle and calm yourself and start at a pace you are comfortable and then begin to challenge yourself. Reward yourself for your progress. If you are struggling, work with a trainer with your dog and a professional for yourself. In order to best care for ourselves and our dogs we must work through our stress and learn effective coping skills. Not easy, but there is an army of people who can support you both.

Exercising too often or too little 
We have all heard the mantra, ‘a well-exercised dog is a well-behaved dog’. This is true, but there is such thing as too much exercise. Do not be fooled into the idea that hours of exercise will solve your dog’s arousal concerns as it has been proven that it does the opposite. On the flip side, not exercising your dog enough will also lead to behaviour concerns through over-arousal. Find a good balance of free exercise where your dog can run and play (such as off-leash parks) and structured exercise that focuses on mental stimulation (such as on-leash walks working on attention). Too much of over-stimulating activities such as dog daycare, off-leash park visits or group walks will increase your dog’s stress/arousal levels, so work with your trainer to find the right balance for your dog. You want them tired, but not over-tired or bored. Exercise is good for us as well and lowers our stress, so find ways you can get out and exercise with your dog so you can both enjoy the benefits!

Final notes
Every time you get frustrated, stop and think about how things may be for your dog. Try to better manage your own emotions and watch how this will benefit you and your dog along with enhancing your bond. Be aware of how the simple of act of yelling, showing frustration or responding through strong emotions can impact your dog, even when it has nothing to do with them. We are all human and will have moments of this, so either keep your dog separated during these times or ensure you are reassuring them and pairing with positives to minimize the affect. Dogs have an amazing way of sensing and responding to our stress, so take it as a cue that you need to settle. And take everything above into consideration; teach them to be successful in our human world, avoid punishment, do not force them into anything, be consistent, let them experience appropriate levels of stress and get out and enjoy nature together!

 

Megan’s Musings: Learning from Belize Dogs

miaMe and Mia at the Pickled Parrot

I have to say it. Belize really is un-belizeable. I had the privilege of spending 10 days there in January and had a wonderful holiday. I loved the heat, the people, the scenery and especially loved watching the many dogs roaming the streets, hanging out freely in the restaurants and running along with the children. Having lived in Indonesia when I was young and spending time there as an adult, I have been fascinated with the behaviour of these local dogs for many years. I am always impressed with how they live within these communities and have enjoyed watching how their roles have evolved over the years. Nowadays, dogs are on collars, walk on leash or off leash beside their owners, live in houses and there are even grooming and daycare/training shops. It’s exceptional to see how their relationship with humans has developed and I enjoyed watching how integrated they are in the community. In today’s post, I am going to share some of what I learned from watching them and what we can apply to our dogs in the urban environment.

Their life is good
We assume that because these dogs don’t lounge on couches all day, eat high quality meals that are fed to them by us, don’t get out on neighbourhood walks with us and don’t have a basket full of interactive toys, that they are unhappy. We have this idea that the life we provide for them is the best, but every time I watch these dogs, I question if that is true. I watch dogs roam around all day, explore, nap in the shade, romp in the water and run around playing with the children. They are free to do what they want and they have active lives full of enrichment all around them. We did see the odd dog who was in need of vet care and only one who was scared. But otherwise, they were very happy and healthy dogs.

They are well-socialized
We did see many puppies and only saw one tied up. Otherwise they were running with the big dogs, playing with the children, watching the world or being carried around. They are easily socialized as they are part of the community, are out exploring and being exposed to everything around them. It happens naturally and it powerful. They don’t sit alone in a house all day with limited exposure. Instead they are out in the real world all the time and the world just becomes normal for them, not an occasional thing. These dogs become so socialized that they live amongst, and for the most part ignore, people, other dogs, children, cats, chickens, cars and everything else. They learn where they are welcome and where not to go and I have always been fascinated to watch how they navigate traffic. We could learn a lot from this and it has really got me thinking about how we can do better for our dogs in urban cities. We must keep them safe, but perhaps we need to look at making socialization more natural. Stay tuned on what we implement in our programs to help our puppies be even more successful in our busy human world.

mexico dogA Mexican dog enjoying a back massage

They are well-behaved
We did not see one that had behaviour concerns that were preventing them from living amongst the community. I did not ask much about this and would love to go back and learn more. What happens if they do have serious concerns? I imagine most don’t survive if they pose a safety risk, but I’d be curious to know how many actually do have concerns. We did meet one dog who as we were walking towards the dock was lying nearby, a man just told us not to say hello as he would bite. We did not, walked right by him and he did not even react. Perfect. How great would it be for our dogs here if they could trust that we would actually listen and not force ourselves on them? This dog was obviously well-loved and they respected his request to not have strangers pet him. It was not viewed as a bad thing. It was just the way he was.

There was no jumping, very minimal barking, they ran alongside their owners off-leash and waited patiently outside stores for them when they could not go in. It was beautiful and exactly what our relationships should be like. They don’t jump because not one person approaches them with over-the-top hellos. In fact, most people just walk by and ignore them. It was only the tourists that I saw that felt the need to say hello to the dogs. The locals treat them as we treat people; perhaps just a smile and nod as they passed them by. When we did hear barking, no one did a thing. Nothing. No response, no yelling and no trying to shush them. And the dogs would just settle on their own and go on their way. This is exactly why these dogs follow along and stay happily with their family. They accept them as dogs and let them be. It is amazing to see and it just seems so natural.

mia2Mia keeping Kris working fetch duty

They are loved
The biggest take-away for me was that these dogs are so loved. They were running with children, being embraced while watching the world go by with their family on the porch, playing fetch and just living life as dogs doing dog things. I would often watch them happily trotting alongside their humans, snuggling in for the occasional embrace or pet and thoroughly enjoying their time following their owner to see what the next adventure would bring. They are family and they are their dogs. I have no doubt there are some sad stories, but overall I feel like these dogs have a very good life. I often overheard tourists commenting on them and feeling sorry for the dogs and listened in on a rescue group talk about how many dogs they were pulling and sending to cities all over North America. It may have been just a limited view, but I am not sure that pulling the dogs from this environment and into our cities is making the right choice for the dog. Perhaps there are other ways we can help. These dogs are loved and they are part of the community.

The best part? I did not see one dog corrected or punished. Not one. I am sure it happens, but I did not see aversive tools and people take a different approach to how they work with them. There was no yelling, they let them be dogs and it seems to really work. My first day back, I was out only to drive to Fish Creek Park and saw five people walking along, their dogs attached to them with a leash and continually correcting them as the dog walked along. No attempt at training. No understanding of how unnatural this was for the dog. Just punishment and frustration. It is no wonder we see the behaviour problems that we have here. We have evolved our relationship and brought dogs into the home as part of the family and then we can’t even spend the time to train them and punish them for being dogs. We need to do better for them. Let’s learn from Belize.

Megan’s Musings: What your dog really wants for Christmas

christmas-bulldog-tree-gifts-small

Our dogs are family. We include them in our activities, celebrate their birthdays and love spending time with them over the holidays. The Christmas season is about surrounding yourself with loved ones and making memories. It is easy to get caught up in the commercialism and go overboard on gifts. Although I know all dogs love getting some extra treats and toys, I am sure their gift list would include more than just that! This holiday season, give the gift of yourself to your dog. The below items outline some ideas that your dog will love and ones that won’t break the bank!

Spend time with them
This one seems like an obvious one, but lives are busy now and it is easy to put the dog’s needs to the side while we get caught up in the busyness. This is especially true during the holiday season. If your dog could ask for only one thing, it would be that you spend more time with them. Not a walk while you look at your phone, or a visit to the dog park while you visit with other dog owners, but time interacting with them.

When you are intentional about spending time with your dog, you play with them, show more affection and focus entirely on them. Take them out to new places and go slow. Let them explore, enjoy watching how they take in the world around them and interact with them. Their time with us is so short, so make an active effort to regularly spend quality time with your dog.

Train them
At dogma, all of our training programs are designed to teach your dog how to be successful in our human world. This includes basic manners, socialization and obedience skills. We focus on these areas for companion dogs to ensure they can be ideal urbanK9s; confident and well-mannered dogs that can go anywhere with us. Our training programs are unique in this approach as we understand that dogs are part of the family, so we ensure they integrate well and are comfortable. Although it is nice to have a dog that can do a very long stay and doesn’t leave your side, we do not think this is fair to our dogs. We want them to be able to explore and enjoy life, so training should be designed to let them do this while keeping them safe and ensuring they are model canine citizens.

Training is what prevents/resolves behaviour problems, keeps dogs safe and allows our dogs to be included in more of our daily activities. Do not just expect your dog to behave and do not get frustrated when they misbehave. Training is our responsibility and we must take the time to do so. It allows your dog to better understand what is expected of them and leads to a life where they are not feeling stressed/frustrated as they try to figure out what we want. We are nicer and more fair to our dogs when they are trained, but we must get out and train. If you have frustrations with your dog, contact a trainer today. And ensure you are always using reward-based methods. Punishing a dog for incorrect responses and inappropriate behaviour is unfair. It just demonstrates that you have not taught them what to do, not that they are defiant, dominant or disobedient. Your dog wants to understand how to behave correctly, so the best gift you could give them is to spend the time training and doing so by teaching them through reward-based methods.
Look at things from their perspective
One of the most powerful tools we offer at dogma is helping dog owners look at things from their dog’s perspective. Too often we get caught up in just looking at how things affect us or make assumptions based on human behaviour. I urge you to step back and look at things from how your dog may perceive them. By taking the time to do this, you will gain a better understanding of your dog, improve your communication and be more successful in your training. All of this will lead to a stronger bond and relationship.

To do this, I also recommend that you take the time to learn more about canine communication and learning. This simple step will help you ensure your dog successfully integrates into our human world and will minimize stress and frustrations for you both. We offer a Dog Talk and a How to Train Your Spouse seminar that will give you all the knowledge you need to better understand things from your dog’s perspective.

Gifts
It is the season of giving, so I do encourage you to spoil your dog at Christmas and include them in the festivities. Remember that there are many dangers, so ensure food, treats and plants are out of reach. Introduce them slowly to decorations and pair them with food to ensure they view them as a positive thing. Keep your dog well-exercised and stock up on chew bones/interactive toys to give them quiet time if there is a lot of extra activity in the house. For gifts, give them items such as interactive games, toys or new chews to provide them something for additional mental stimulation as well.

We love our dogs, so focus on their needs and wishes this holiday season. Show them that you care and make that extra bit of effort to spend quality time with them. Snuggle up against them and listen to their heartbeat and feel how your breathing will sync up. Cherish this time. Dogs don’t need mistletoe to give kisses, so appreciate each moment and have a wonderful time over the holidays!

Megan’s Musings: #brainsnotbreed

haley2#brainsnotbreed items

Outdated breed specific legislation (BSL) exists throughout Canada. People were outraged when BSL was passed in Montreal in September. In early October it was suspended, however, there is still a risk of the law being passed. Although a law like this targets bully breeds, it is dangerous for all dogs. BSL creates fear of our canine family members, promotes hate and discrimination and ignores expert opinion and facts. Every time we have a knee-jerk reaction and make decisions based in fear, it causes severe and negative consequences for our future. At dogma, education is the core of our business and it is our mission to improve canine reputations. Through training and socialization we aim to enhance our relationships with our dogs while helping to create well-mannered canine citizens. BSL goes against all of this. In October, we launched our awareness campaign #brainsnotbreed as a way to share why supporting BSL puts all dogs at risk and what we can do to prevent it from progressing any further. In this post, I share some insight for dog owners, especially owners of bully breeds, on some behaviours that compound the problem. Let’s work together to be the solution.

Our obsession with pitbulls
I get it. We are proud of our dogs and want to ensure we have a model pitbull. I have two of them at home so understand why we want to promote their breed and are so damn proud to have well-behaved and well-socialized ones. However, so many pitbull-lovers become obsessive and refer constantly to the breed. We become fanatical with them in a way that brings a different type of attention to them. We create such a big deal about them that we put them into another category from dogs. They are a dog just like any other and we must get better at treating them that way. It is still a good idea to promote everything that showcases them as lovable, loyal and well-trained dogs, but we should do this the same way we would any other dog.

kpups4Duke with kinderPUP, Clark

Let me give you a few examples of how I have witnessed people do this. We had a puppy class one night with around twenty puppies coming into the room. One of the apprenticeship students commended the pitbull puppy owners for attending the class. This was not said to one other student in the room. Every single puppy in there is at risk of developing behaviour concerns that can be a danger to other animals or people. Why would we single out and give praise to only the pitbull owners? I understand that we want to encourage responsible pet ownership, especially with bully breeds, but we must begin treating all dogs equally. When we are out with either of our pitbulls, Duke and Mya, we are constantly stopped by people. We can barely walk through crowds without people wanting to stop and talk about how much they love pitbulls, how great pitbulls are and talk about their positive experiences with pitbulls. Again, I understand this is a kind gesture and people are happy to promote pitbulls. However, this has never happened with my other dogs and we must treat all dogs the same and stop putting pitbulls into a separate category that garners so much attention. All dog owners should be commended for making the right choices and training their dogs, and all dogs should receive appropriate attention. Let’s stop making such a big deal when they are pitbulls.

Showcasing them as threatening dogs
At a time when people are fearful of bully breeds, we must do a better job at making them look friendly and safe. Do a quick google image search on pitbulls and notice how many are ferocious looking and note how many those are part of pitbull fan pages. Compare this with how the media portrays bully breeds through pictures and you see some concerning similarities Take a look through pitbull Facebook groups and you will see a large number of scary looking dogs. We must stop putting them in huge chains, spiked collars and breeding them to look like muscle-bound, dangerous creatures. And please, for the sake of our dogs, let’s stop cropping their ears. One of the main reasons ears were cropped originally was so that there was less to grab during dog fighting. They need their ears for effective communication and there is no reason to crop. It is cruel and unnecessary and there is a reason many cities are banning and vets refuse to do this outdated procedure.

monsterBreeding and cropping ears to make the dogs look menacing.
These breeding practices also create health concerns in the dogs.

I understand many of us love the look of the breed and the spiked collars and leather gear is not meant to scare people from our dogs. We love the strength and tough look of the dogs and this equipment enhances this. However, times are volatile for the breed and we must be more responsible in how we represent them and portray them to the general public. This is a large part of our #brainsnotbreed campaign. We want people sharing pictures of their happy dogs demonstrating how they are ideal urbanK9s; well-mannered and confident canine citizens that are welcome anywhere. Showcase the traits that make people smile and feel safe. It is a time to promote the positive side and be sensitive to what may be inadvertently showing them as a dangerous dog to be feared.

Using heavy-handed methods
Being an organization that has built itself on promoting the proper training and handling of dogs, this is an issue that goes far beyond bully breeds. However, aversive training methods have been proven to put dogs at risk for serious behaviour concerns to develop as well as the potential to see an increased risk of aggression. It is irresponsible to train any dog through physical punishment and methods based in fear or intimidation. It is not only unfair to the dog, it puts people and other animals at risk. Unfortunately, bully breeds are frequently subjected to heavy-handed methods as we view them as tough dogs that need to be dominated and handled differently than other dogs. This is based on opinion and not on proven facts. Not only does it put the dogs and others at risk, but it also demonstrates that we have reason to fear these animals and they must be handled with force. They do not need to be handled roughly. I am always shocked at the number of people who come up and handle Duke heavily and roughly interact with him. It is as though they feel he needs to be handled in a harder manner as I have never had anyone interact the same way with any of my other dogs.

mean-monster Training with aggression often creates aggression

Please take the time to learn about canine body language and communication and how to train them by teaching them what to do vs taking only corrective action. Utilize methods that are not only more effective for training, but ensure the dog’s emotional well-being remains stable and positive. Start your dogs off at a young age and participate in active socialization. Continue to take them out into the human world as they develop and show them our busy, urban environment is safe and positive for them. Take care to teach them through reward-based methods to create an ideal urbanK9; one that shows people how wonderful our bully breeds truly are.

chambersDuke at a Calgary Chambers event promoting #brainsnotbreed

Please join our #brainsnotbreed campaign! We have magnets and stickers available at both locations. Share them and show us on Instagram by tagging us and using #brainsnotbreed to show where you have placed them. Follow our spokesdog, Duke, on Facebook and Instagram. Also, show that you do not support BSL and showcase all the ways your dog is an ideal urbanK9 (all breeds welcome)! Let’s join together to educate not hate, enforce not force and act not react. #dogmaknowsbetter. Join us in ending BSL (#endBSL).

Megan’s Musings: Is Daycare Right For Every Dog?

Your dog does not like daycare. I have had to deliver this news a few times and it is never easy. I always feel proud of my team for taking the dog’s emotional and behavioural well-being so seriously and understanding when daycare is not right for certain dogs. However, the team is often faced with frustration, hurt, and even anger by dog owners when this decision is made. We pride ourselves on our dog-dog programs and our success at integrating dogs back in with their canine companions. However, we also have the experience and the knowledge to understand when this is not the best fit for the dog. In this post, I am going to share how we make these decisions at dogma and how you can help to understand if your dog is enjoying daycare.

Arousal 
Arousal is a big challenge with groups of dogs. Off leash play is a stimulating activity that attributes to over-arousal, which most often develops into behaviour concerns. This can be from the off-leash park, daycare or too many games of fetch. We often see this when dogs begin to show frustration at the off-leash park or within the daycare, but have otherwise been social dogs. Majority of the time, a change in schedule from every day off leash romps to once or twice a week is all it takes to reduce this frustration. This is the same for daycare.

We typically do not allow dogs to attend 5 days/week as it adds to over-arousal concerns and is detrimental to their behavioural and emotional well-being. In special cases where a dog does have to do this, or attend multiple days in a row, we put them on a separate schedule, which includes some focus work and additional rest. If your daycare limits days/week that your dog can attend or asks you to reduce them, they are doing this for your dog’s well-being. They could happily take your extra money, but are making the right choice to ensure your dog is safe and happy.

Arousal also needs to be managed by your daycare facility. Smaller playgroups sizes, staff who are highly trained in canine behaviour and scheduled rest are vital to ensure the dogs do not become over-aroused and to minimize conflict between the dogs. It looks great to us when we see large groups of dogs running around and playing, but too much of this will have detrimental effects on the behaviour of most dogs. A well-run daycare will conduct a variety of exercises to help focus and settle the dogs and manage the arousal. Dogs should still be running around, making noise and having fun, but a well-trained staff will ensure it is appropriate. This means identifying that all dogs in the group are enjoying the activity. If dogs are avoiding the play, going under or up on furniture and moving away from the group or our acting as the play police and trying to settle the other dogs, the play is too much and has become over-stimulating for them. The dogs need to go into a more settled group if available or perhaps daycare is not a good fit.

Age
I always give the analogy in human terms. Daycare is like elementary school for children. Yes, it may be fun at first, but too much of it for older children or adults would get tiring fast. We would become cranky and easily frustrated with the energy levels of the children. We see the same thing for dogs. Majority of the dogs who attend are young and full of energy. As dogs age, they need more rest and may find daycare to be too much. If they seem to require extra rest at home after a day at daycare or do not seem as enthusiastic, they may need to be moved to a more settled daycare group if that is an option. Or perhaps lessen their days at daycare per week or even the hours per day. Listen to your dog and realize that it is likely just their age. They may still enjoy the facility, playing with dogs and getting out, but just need more rest.

My dog Duke attended 3 days per week and I started to see him requiring much more sleep between the days and he even seemed a bit cranky. We moved to 2 days per week and now we just monitor how he is feeling and even let him tell us what days he wants to go or not go. By listening to his needs and the feedback from the team at dogma, I can ensure he remains happy and his behaviour remains stable. He loves to play and go to dogma, but if I pushed too much on him, we would see his arousal and frustration increase and could see behaviour concerns such as frustration towards other dogs and over-excitement at home.

Structured Exercise 
This is something that is my responsibility to monitor at home. I know that Duke only spends about 10% of his total time a week at the facility, so it is my job to ensure that the remaining 90% is beneficial to his emotional and behavioural well-being. It is expected that taking him to daycare will be stimulating regardless of the facility set up or experience/knowledge, so it is normal for concerns to amplify there. However, if I take Duke to the off-leash park every day of the week, do not work on self-control or manners and provide no structured exercise, it is expected that I will see behavioural concerns develop. This will typically show as frustration towards dogs or over-excitement. We could also see leash aggression and even a decrease in his obedience skills. These are all things that you should be discussing with your daycare team and monitoring in your dog at all times. We implement a minimum once/week attendance at dogma for this reason. It allows us to better monitor the dog’s behaviour to watch for these subtle changes if they are developing. It is also not good for your dog’s arousal level to only attend daycare occasionally. They will be out of the routine, so they have to reintegrate every time they attend which can be stressful on them.

You can help your dog by ensuring that they attend at least once/week and that you provide structured exercise. Do this by limiting off-leash park play to only once or twice per week and minimize over-stimulating games such as fetch and tug. Provide structured, on leash exercise. Loose leash walking is an excellent self-control skill and focus work gets the dog thinking. These are excellent ways to tire out your dog without over-stimulating them.

Rest
Do not forget about rest. Give your dog time to settle after daycare days or off-leash park trips. Too much exercise has been proven to have detrimental effects on our dogs. If you feel like you cannot provide enough exercise and your dog is always full of energy, this is a sign that they need rest. Each time they attend daycare, go off-leash, on a walk, play fetch or any other stimulating activities, you are elevating their arousal levels. They need time in between to rest and settle. By keeping things calm and providing them some more quiet time, you will begin to see great results in their behaviour and manners. Ensure your daycare facility provides adequate rest for the dogs. A day with no rest is not good for any dog.

 

As you can see, dog play and our dogs’ behaviour are closely linked and this is a complex topic. Dog daycares need to have certified trainers on staff who are reward-based to ensure the arousal and stress levels in dogs are being effectively managed. The set up and structure throughout the day directly impacts the behavioural and emotional well-being of the dogs, as does everything that your dog does outside of the facility. A facility who is discussing your dog’s behaviour and bringing up concerns is ensuring they are working to provide the best solution for your dog. And sometimes that solution may be that daycare is not a good fit. Your dog may find the large group play too stressful. Thank them for observing this and work with them to help your dog. There are many training options and other solutions to provide your dog with play. There is nothing wrong with a dog who finds daycare or the off-leash park to be too stimulating.

When I opened dogma, I was thrilled to be able to have a place to bring Guinniss. However, as I began to do this, I realized that he did not like it. It was too much excitement and it overwhelmed him. I had to step back and look at why I wanted him to attend. I had this vision that it would make it him happy, but realized that it was to make me happy. He may learn to function there, but he would not love it. It became an important lesson on how I structured dogma and how we work with each dog. Accept the dog you have and help them. A dog who does not attend daycare or go off-leash can live a happy and full life. Be proud of yourself for helping your dog by making the right choices for them.