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 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.

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.

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.



Megan’s Musings: Training Can and Should Be Fun

What made you first want a dog? Was it the memories of a faithful companion that you could confide in as a child? Was it the vision of a loyal friend who was always at your side? Did you picture enjoying life together and having fun? I think it is safe to say that companionship is the reason why most people add a dog to the family these days.

So, how does this vision fit in when we decide we should train our dog? And what is training exactly? What are we looking for when we set out to train our dogs and why does it have to be so serious? At dogma, our training programs are designed with the vision of a faithful companion that is always by your side, one that you can take anywhere with you and both feel safe and happy. Our programs create ideal urbanK9s that are prepared for city life, confident and well-mannered. We accomplish this through educational, but fun, training classes.  Training can and should be enjoyable and today I am going to share some ways to make sure it always is for both you and your dog. Read more

Megan’s Musings: Saying Goodbye


It’s taken me awhile to sit down and write this post. I’ve started it a few times but struggled on where to start. I’ve said goodbye to my best friend, my soul dog and my greatest teacher. What do I want to share about the experience of saying goodbye? What do I feel when I think back on it? It hurts. It hurts like hell and I get emotional every time I start this post. But, more than anything, I think to that day and what a beautiful morning it was. I remember waking up and seeing him lying in the warmth of the morning sun streaming in the window. He ate a big special breakfast and we cherished every last minute together. It was wonderful, and hard as hell, but peaceful. I was flooded with emotions, but I felt lucky.

I was lucky enough to spend 14 years with Guinniss at my side. He was with me through the most pivotal moments of my life. He was my first dog, greatest teacher and the reason for dogma. You can read more about his story with dogma here, but today I am going to share with you some of what he taught me. Guinniss brought me unconditional love, loyalty and such joy, but most of all he brought me lessons. That’s what made him so special. He was an old soul and I was the blessed one to have him as my guide. I will write more about going through the loss of a pet, but today it is not about saying goodbye, but about celebrating his life and sharing what Guinniss taught me.

Trust More
This lesson took me a little while to hear. Guinniss was highly reactive in his youth and I did as I was taught and micro-managed his environment and behaviour. I did not trust him and worried he would hurt a person or another animal. Watching him when he first met his little sister, Deja, taught me to trust him more. Once I did this, he progressed by leaps and bounds to overcome his fears. We let our own emotions get in the way and hold our dogs back from their potential. Trusting them more allows them to communicate more freely.

first day with deja
Deja and Guinniss on their first day together

Demonstrate Patience
Learning more patience was the greatest lesson from dog training that has positively affected all areas of my life. We must step back, breath and let things move along as they should. You cannot rush things and doing so is detrimental to everyone involved. Everyone is learning how to navigate this crazy life; so be patient with each person and animal you meet. No one is out there (especially your dogs!) to intentionally make your life difficult. Demonstrate patience and that is when true progress happens. The more often we remember that our dogs are learning and the more patience we show them, the more progress we will see in our training.

Stop telling your dog what to do and stop assuming they are behaving a certain way to dominate or make your life hell. Stop it. Instead step back and listen. Observe them and listen carefully to what they are saying. You know those times when your dog is barking and lunging? It is screaming for help. You know those times when your dog does not respond to your commands? They are telling you they are confused and you need to teach them. Did you know that every time your dog misbehaves it is because they may be stressed, or confused or just doing what they believe is right? Guinniss taught me early on to listen. As soon as I did this, I could help him and in turn he helped me. Stop talking. Stop being angry. Listen to your dog.

My champion in his wheelchair

Keep Pushing Forward
Guinniss was a fighter. We began calling him our champion because it did not matter what new hurdle or struggle presented itself, he took each challenge head on. He overcame his fears, worked through his stress, fought through his disease destroying his body and did it all with a big smile on his face. His strength influenced me so much during his last year. He inspired me and showed me that the greatest things really do come through struggle. It was as if he was showing me to not give up. If it is important, it is worth fighting for and it will be hard, but worth the fight. My promise to him is that I will keep the picture of him in his wheelchair close as a reminder to always keep pushing forward.

Laugh More
Guinniss was the ultimate entertainer. Right up until his last few moments with us, he kept us laughing. He taught me that regardless of what the situation may be, it is your attitude about the situation that determines the results. He gave us so many laughs over the last year of his life. In the days leading up to saying goodbye, I would often giggle through tears as he continued to be goofy. He made the hardest times the best times. No matter what is going on, do not forget to laugh.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive
I think this has become the thing I say the most in my training. Guinniss taught me more than any book, schooling or person has ever taught me when it comes to dog training, but this was the lesson with the greatest impact. Do not wait for training to happen. Set your dog up for success and help them navigate our human world. Too many of us hold our dogs back or exclude them from areas of our lives due to their stress in certain situations or lack of training to show them what is expected. Guinniss was terrified of the world, but I worked at his pace and introduced him to more of it each year. He overcame his fears and was able to participate in so much with me. Dogma’s puppy, obedience and our fear/reactivity classes are now based on this model. Get out with your dog and do more. Show them the busy human world, teach them what is expected of them and enjoy your training with them. Reward them for good behaviour, be proactive and spend the time training. You will be amazed by what they can accomplish.

3 of us on the beach
Bucket list item: see the ocean

Cherish Every Moment
I was fortunate to have Guinniss by my side for almost 14 years. He taught me about every life stage and we were able to share so much. But, it was not enough time. It felt too fast and I ached for more time with him. Our dogs’ lives are short. As we started to see Guinniss age, we created a bucket list for him. You can read more about the details and what we did with him here. By having a bucket list, we were able to stay focused on what he wanted to do. We let him make more choices, we spent more time doing activities he loved, we introduced him to more and we celebrated him. It was the best thing to come out of his senior years and it has inspired many others to do more with their dogs.

We were able to say goodbye with no regrets. And we have started a bucket list for each of our dogs and will continue to do so no matter what their age. It has also taught me to cherish more time with everyone in my life and to stop and enjoy the beauty in the little things around us. My favourite moments throughout Guinniss’s life was when we stopped and just watched the world together in silence. He would snuggle into me and I would listen to our breathing sync up as we enjoyed nature together. I helped him slow down and overcome his stress and in turn he taught me to slow down and enjoy the world around me.

We shared a Guinness on his first and last days in my life

It is a strange thing to be overcome by such grief but also feel so blessed. It is often not until something is over that we realize what an amazing experience it has been. I thank you, Guinniss, for teaching and inspiring myself and so many others. Your work here is far from over and I feel energized to continue sharing your lessons. Most of all, I want more people to see what beautiful things can happen when we share our love with a dog. To see what an amazing bond develops when we create a relationship based on mutual respect, when we listen and we stop thinking about commanding but instead on communicating. I wish for so many others to experience what I was lucky to learn from you and will share this with each dog that comes into my life. RIP my champion. Run Free.

You can watch a tribute video for Guinniss here.


What lessons have you learned from your dog? Please share in the comments below!


Megan’s Musings: Yes, I Hug my Dog

deja cover

Deja and I enjoying a moment together

Hello, my name is Megan, and yes, I hug my dog.

It may seem like a silly statement, but we are at a time when people do not want to admit this and don’t dare post a picture of themselves in an embrace with their dog. And if they do, they will likely be attacked and ridiculed for doing so.

Before I write too much more, I must start with two disclaimers. First off, I had no idea this was going to be such a hot topic this month. I presented this subject at an APDT Conference a few years ago and have been meaning to do a blog post on it ever since. There was an article published this month that reminded me of it. I had no idea this story was going to happen and we would see as much discussion as we are seeing now. There are many flaws in the study referenced, but I primarily have concerns with us assuming a dog’s emotional state by seeing a quick snapshot. I have many pictures of my dogs looking terrified, stressed, tired or happy in situations where they were not. This is the same for humans. We just had a family get together and all laughed at a photo of my brother-in-law that looked like he was having the worst time of his life. We need to stop making these assumptions from a picture that just captures an instant.

Secondly, and I will repeat this numerous times throughout here, I am not condoning hugging or not respecting the space of a dog, especially strange dogs. I do not want anyone doing anything that would cause unnecessary stress for a dog or risk them getting bit by a dog. We do need to educate the public on the proper handling of dogs, but at the same time, let’s work to prepare our dogs for all of the inappropriate things that many people do.

I currently share my home with four wonderful dogs who all enjoy receiving hugs from me. How do I know this? Because they will actively seek them from me. They will come in close for a snuggle, lean in and stay close for an embrace. I do not force it, end it when they move away and never do this with a strange dog. Not one of my dogs enjoyed a hug at first or wanted to be embraced. I worked with them to enjoy it for two reasons: because I love hugs with them and because I wanted to ensure they were comfortable interacting with people.  It has now become a special bonding moment between us and I cherish each hug I share with my dogs.



Guinniss was my first dog and came to me as a frightened boy who was terrified in our human world. He was unsure of new people and would bark and lunge at anyone who came too close. It was very scary, but I knew the sweet and affectionate boy I experienced at home could learn that the world was safe and new people were his friends. I worked hard on his handling to teach him to first calmly accept touch from myself, then from people he knew well, to people he was familiar with, and finally up to strangers. We often joke that I may have overdone it as he became a dog who craves attention and actively seeks out affection from anyone!

I carefully managed this process to ensure Guinniss was comfortable. I could have just avoided it entirely and decided it may be too stressful for him and that he just shouldn’t be handled. I could blame and get angry at anyone who may want to approach him and say hello. But, how fair is that to Guinniss? What would that have meant instead? It would have led to a life full of stress as he would have never learned that people mean good things for him and to enjoy interacting with them. I would have had to keep him sheltered from many things that he loves to do. And the worst part is that if I did not teach him to enjoy handling, I would actually be putting people at a high risk of getting bitten by him. Why? Because you betcha that at some point in Guinniss’s life, someone would need to handle him. The vet would need to be able to handle him. And what if something happened to me? He would need to be okay with interactions from a stranger.

And we’ve been tested. I had a young girl rush up to him and give him a big bear hug. I never thought this could happen and it caught me completely off guard. I remember just looking down at him, trying to keep my voice calm and steady and providing him with verbal praise. How fortunate was I that I had spent the time preparing him for this? I politely asked the girl to stand up, gave her some treats to give him and took the time to explain how to properly greet a dog, and also chat with her about how much she loves dogs. We have become a society that are so judgemental and hard on each other. I did not fault her and did not want to embarrass her for wanting to show affection. I actually saw someone comment this past week about how she didn’t care how many people she offended as she told them how to properly interact with a dog at a pet show. She saw it as education. We need to be kinder to everyone and realize people are not being jerks by wanting to show affection to dogs.

guinniss kris

Guinniss and Kris in an embrace while enjoying the beach

We are making great progress, and in an ideal world, it would be wonderful if everyone knew how to properly approach and greet a dog. However, we still have a very long road ahead. But, let’s not take this to such an extreme that we say to never hug our dogs! We love our time with our dogs and need to learn how to ensure our dogs are comfortable and enjoying our affection as well. So, what are some key points to help us achieve this?

  1. Never hug a strange dog. Better yet, never approach a dog and just start handling it. Approach it by curving towards it, watch for any calming signals, lower yourself down sideways and see if the dog wants to approach. Let it seek affection from you first. If it does not approach, that is fine and is the dog’s choice. Accept this and move on your way.
  2. Teach your children to respect the dog’s space and do not allow them to lie, sit or stand on your dog. Even if your dog is comfortable with this, you are teaching them that’s how they interact with dogs and they are likely to do this to a strange dog. Demonstrate how to properly interact with your dog to ensure your dog is comfortable and to keep your child safe. Work with a trainer on this and take a look at this excellent infographic for more information.
  3. Work on teaching your dog to calmly accept touch and that handling is a good thing. This will help them interact well with people and make vet and grooming visits much less stressful and enjoyable for all!
  4. Love your dog. Show them affection that they are comfortable with. If they move away, let them. Watch for calming signals and work to ensure they are comfortable and enjoying it. Do not be afraid to hug your dog, but take the time to ensure they enjoy it as well.

We are sending the wrong message out when we say do not hug your dog. It is unfair of us to attack people online who have pictures of themselves or their children embracing their dog. We cannot just assume the dog is stressed by a snapshot of the interaction. We do need to better educate everyone on how to properly interact and greet dogs, but our responsibility as trainers and dog owners it to also prepare our dogs for handling and make them comfortable with it. Our urbanK9 and Reactive urbanK9 training programs both focus on handling to ensure our dogs are successful in our human world. We also offer a Handling Clinic that runs over the Fall/Winter seasons to help teach you how to properly handle your dog and prepare them for it. If you ever have questions, please email us at!

Megan’s Musings: What the Easter Bunny Taught us about Dog Training

easter bunny

We held our fifth annual Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt April 2017 and we were blown away again by what everyone accomplished! Over 10 days, participants took their dogs out and around Calgary to complete a variety of tasks. These ranged from obedience tasks that could be performed at home, photo ops with the Easter Bunny, unique picture sessions at Calgary landmarks and supporting local participating businesses. There were over 30 registrants and the competition was fierce!

There were so many laughs and smiles! We thank you all for demonstrating exactly what dogma is all about; our dogs are part of our family, training should be fun and time together can be full of joy when you take the time to let them participate. I was proud of everyone and began thinking about the invaluable lessons this event taught us all.

fun dog training
Farley, the grand prize winner!

Training should be fun
You just need to browse through the event page for a brief moment to understand how much fun everyone had with their dogs. There were many giggles over the 10 days and I loved seeing how much everyone was enjoying their time with their dogs. Each time they were out with their dogs, training was happening, and it was fun!

It’s amazing how something as simple as adding bunny ears to the dog while performing a skill changed how we approach the training. We forgot about the seriousness, had some fun while training to capture the shot, and in turn, we were successful. I don’t doubt that if we focused more on enjoying our time together with the training, we would see better results. Remember this when training: have fun!

george4George excited about the market!

Include your dog in more
We run a unique membership training program called urbanK9. This program starts with foundation obedience and moves through levels to our final Real World level. The goal is to create urbanK9s; confident, well-mannered dogs that you can take anywhere with you.

We designed our hunt around many of the activities we do in the classes, and to encourage the participants to take their dog out and around the city of Calgary. And did they ever do this! They took them to indoor locations such as Rona, the vet and Sunnyside Garden Center. And they covered so much of the city by going to Millennium Skate Park, all over the downtown core and a variety of parks.

Many of these dog owners had not taken their dogs out to these places for fear of them embarrassing them or misbehaving. And you know what? They did great! This was one of the most important lessons, as it taught us that we can include our dog in so much more. We should allow them the opportunity to see more of our world and provide them ideal socialization by taking them to more places. The benefits are tremendous, as the socialization and training helps you to create an ideal urbanK9.

reactive group class dog training
Reactive urbanK9 class meeting the Easter Bunny!

They will never do it, if you never try it
The human world is busy, full of unknowns and confusing to dogs. They need to learn how to behave and be exposed to things in order to be well-mannered and confident dogs. Every dog is likely to behave like an excitable dog at first, so it is our responsibility to provide them the guidance to be successful in our human world.

I am sure most of the participants of the Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt would tell you that they would not have taken their dog to many of the places we listed for the hunt. And, to top it off, they often had the option to perform a skill for even more points such as taking a picture of their dog in a sit with a Rona employee, shaking hands with a stranger, or riding in the cart at Sunnyside. And so many of them did this and had fun while doing it!

We had a large group of dogs from our Reactive urbanK9 program participate as well. In Reactive urbanK9 we focus on getting our fearful and reactive dogs out into the real world in this program as well. We need will never help them overcome their fears/reactivity if we don’t expose them and work them through it. Words cannot express how proud I was of each of them for getting out and accomplishing some tasks I know they would have thought were impossible even a few short months ago.

You always want to ensure your dog is comfortable and not overwhelmed, but the Easter Bunny showed us that with gradual exposure, trust and just having the courage to attempt these tasks, that you can accomplish great things! Be patient with your dogs, ensure you reward them for good behaviour, include them and have fun! Thank you to everyone who took part and we look forward to more events like this in the future!

Our next Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt is quickly approaching! Join us March 19th – 29th to explore our wonderful city, support local businesses, have some fun while training your dog and get the chance to win big prizes! Full details and registration can be found at

Good luck to everyone!