Megan’s Musings: Engage. Enrich. Empower.

engage enrich empower small

It’s Valentine’s this month, so it’s a good time to celebrate the love for our dogs! Sure, they may challenge us at times, but overall we are so lucky to have them in our lives. They are always happy to see us, don’t talk back (well, in ways that we understand 😉) and demonstrate the true definition of unconditional love! We provide food, shelter and care for our dogs and most of them have wonderful lives because of the love we have for them. But, what if I told you that we could do better? As much as we do provide for our dogs, their lives can still be limited and their needs can easily be put aside due to our busy schedules. It happens to all of us at times! So, I wanted to share some easy ways that we can go that extra mile to show our dog some love and ensure their emotional, physical and behavioural health needs are being met. These are simple and fun ways to help your dog, regardless of your schedule or budget!

What does it mean to engage with your dog? I’m not talking about when we just go about the motions and feed them, take them out for a walk or play a game with them. I’m talking about absolute engagement. The definition of engage is to participate or become involved in or establish a meaningful contact or connection with someone.

Too often, I see people out walking their dogs while on their cell phones are visiting with the people they are with. Dog walks have become more of a march as well. Don’t sniff that, walk over here, look at me, stay at my side, don’t say hi to that person, ignore that dog and so on. Many do not allow their dogs to be dogs and they aren’t enjoying the walk together. Start by going on one-on-one walks with your dogs. Let them sniff and take in their surroundings. Explore with them. Take them new places. Talk to them and interact. Enjoy nature together.

At times, I also see people playing fetch with their dog while engaged with something else. They just stand there throwing the ball for the dog while their attention is elsewhere. The flip side of this is over-arousal with our engagement. We let the dogs become hyper-focused and find it amusing to see them ball-obsessed or toy obsessed. This is unhealthy engagement and is all too common. Toys can be a great outlet for our dogs, but we need to understand what healthy engagement looks like for our dogs.

I feel like many dogs have a limited life. They are in the same house for hours most days, get to explore the same backyard, and although they may get regular walks, they tend to go to the same places. The definition of enrich is to improve or enhance the quality or value of. Although getting our dogs out provides some level of this, taking them to same place and/or doing more of a march like I mentioned above, is not enriching their lives.

Some easy ways to enrich their lives is by taking them new places and introducing them to new experiences. If you are pressed for time, doing a short outing is better than not doing one at all. Or, hire a dog walker or send your dog to dayschool. And attend training with your dog! Yes, you may have experience with training classes before, but your dog does not. This is an excellent way to provide some mental and physical exercise and let your dog meet new people and dogs. Play and social relationships are incredibly important for a dog’s overall well-being.

If you are busy, there are so many ways to provide enrichment to your dog. You can read my post on enrichment ideas during cold weather here. These exercises cannot just replace getting your dog out in the world. They provide some excellent outlets, but they do not replace letting your dog explore new places.

To empower means to make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights. I love this definition and feel it is very important to provide this for our dogs. Now I am not saying that we do not provide guidance and structure, but it does mean we need to get out of the habit of controlling everything in our dogs’ lives. This is where dominance theory and pack leader approaches have done the most damage to our dogs. Not only do some believe the nonsense that dogs are trying to assert dominance over us, but it has taught people that most normal dog behaviour is dangerous. This has caused us to not allow dogs to just be dogs anymore and many are living very sad lives as a result of this.

Empowerment is easy to do and is such a wonderful thing to allow a dog. Let them make their own choices when it is safe and appropriate for them to do so. For example, on a walk, let them lead the way. Follow them as they follow a scent, let them choose the route and explore the world around them.

I see the greatest impact with this when working with fearful dogs. Let’s say a dog is unsure of me. I stay low to the ground and avoid eye contact. I start by tossing food at the dog and reward them for moving closer to me. All of this is done at the dog’s pace. It is their choice to approach and they always have the option to move away. This is what builds their confidence and develops a positive relationship between us. I practice this theory with all of my dogs. We do things at their pace and I listen to them if they are uncomfortable with something. If they are unsure, I help them feel better about it, and in turn this enhances our relationship. It is truly a magical thing.

What are some ways you can further engage, enrich or empower your dog? Are you interested in learning more about what you can do? Join us March 24 and 25 for Dog Days of dogma! A unique and fun-filled weekend with the focus on how to engage, enrich and empower your dog. Find out full details at!


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.

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!

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!”.

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.

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!

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.

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 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.

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: Beyond Dog Daycare – What is Day School?


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: Bad Breeding in Alberta

No to P

In June, Ty Marshall applied to expand his kennel operations in Vulcan, Alberta. This proposed plan would have resulted in 200 dogs being housed and 50 puppies being born per week. Thankfully for the many dogs and families who would have suffered much stress and heartache, this application was denied. However, due to our weak animal protection laws, The Calgary Humane Society and AARCS had to return seized animals back to Ty Marshall shortly after this victory. A victory that happened because a large group of individuals took the time to speak out and fight against a puppy mill being opened in our backyard. We all know that dogs deserve better. There are many areas to this case that require change to happen, but to start, the greatest issue is that bad breeding is still legal in Alberta.

At dogma, we believe that we must lead by example and education is the key to driving change. We will never support an organization that sells animals, except for responsible rescue groups and breeders. Many of us at dogma have been a part of the rewarding, but heartbreaking, work of an animal rescue group. We have seen the many animals that struggle to be adopted each year and far too many that must die due to over-population or behaviour problems that deem them unadoptable. It is a massive problem and we want to see more families adopting dogs, however, we fully support responsible breeders and there are many amazing ones throughout the world. But how can you know what is a responsible rescue group or breeder? I will outline some of the key traits to help identify an animal rescue group or breeder that is part of the solution by ensuring proper matches so that their pets can integrate successfully into our families.

Responsible breeder:

  • Only focus on one breed
  • One or two litters/year
  • Does not breed extremely young or old animals
  • Screens for health concerns
  • Will not breed dogs with behavioural concerns
  • Bred animals live in home and are considered part of the family
  • Never sells to a pet store, dealer or on an online directory like Kijiji
  • Provides detailed health records and breeding/pedigree information
  • Will take back the animal at any time for any reason
  • Will have a contract that covers information such as spaying/neutering the pet
  • Has a thorough screening process for applicants to ensure it is a good fit for both
  • Has a thoughtful and well-educated process for the rearing and socialization of their animals
  • Is available pre-and post-purchase to help families and ensure the transition is successful

Responsible rescue organization:

  • Registered as a not-for-profit organization
  • Never sells animals online through a directory like Kijiji
  • They know their limits and will not over-fill their facilities/foster homes
  • Performs thorough health and behavioural assessments on the animals
  • Will vaccinate, spay/neuter and address known health concerns with the pet before you take it home
  • Has a thorough screening process for applicants to ensure it is a good fit for both
  • Provides detailed health records and honest details on the animal’s temperament/behavioural traits
  • With dogs, works closely with or has a certified, reward-based trainer on staff for pre-and post-adoption work
  • Understands that not every animal is safe to be adopted due to behaviour concerns or that it may not be a fair option for the animal due to health concerns. If so, they have a thorough and fair process to determine the best option for the animal.
  • Is available pre-and post-purchase to help families and ensure the transition is successful
  • Will take back the animal at any time for any reason

There are wonderful organizations and breeders out there who can help you find the perfect pet to match your family. They will be transparent and honest with you, not rush the process and ask a lot of questions to ensure it is a good fit for both you and the pet. They genuinely care about their animals, so they will have a follow up process and ensure the animal returns to them if there is ever a problem. We must support these organizations and never buy from a pet store or backyard breeder.

Educating ourselves on those groups and individuals who are adding to the pet over-population problem and who are having devastating effects on pets and their families is the first step. Most people who buy from these groups or individuals are doing so because they love animals, think they are saving them from a bad situation and/or do not understand what they are supporting. Do not judge them and instead try to guide people in the right direction when they are looking for a new pet. A quick google search on puppy mills, backyard breeding and irresponsible rescue organizations will bring up thousands of examples of why these are dangerous and heartbreaking options. Promote and support the groups that are making responsible decisions. It is up to us to drive this change. We saw what happens when we take a small amount of our time to write and respectfully share why Ty Marshall’s application should have been denied. Our voices will be heard.

It was heartbreaking to hear of the animals being returned to Ty Marshall. To learn that due to our weak animal protection laws, they had to be given back to the man that created so much suffering, was devastating. I cannot begin to fathom how hard and upsetting it must have been to those involved in the care of these animals to return them and my heart goes out to them. How it was even allowed to get to this point is a problem. If you do not want puppy mills in Canada or feel that these animals should not have been returned to Ty Marshall, please take the time to write a respectful letter to your MLA asking for changes to the Animal Protection Acts. Find your MLA here Change starts with us, so let’s make our voices louder.

Are there other ways you think we can identify a responsible breeder/rescue group? Do you have other ways we can stop puppy mills from operating in our province? Please share in the comments 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 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


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.

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: Helping Your Other Dogs After a Death

hikingGuinniss and Deja on an adventure

Losing a pet is hard on the whole family. We lost Guinniss in June and saw the effects it had on the remaining pets immediately. Deja and Duke were both lethargic and stayed in bed for hours. For a few days after his passing, neither of them got up to greet us when we came home. Deja stopped eating and they were quiet and withdrawn. It was a big adjustment for everyone and we are still seeing the impact today. In this post, I will share some of the lessons I have learned through this, ways you can help your pet while they are grieving and steps you can take to minimize the impact on them.

Let them be a part of it
This is one that is a personal preference, but I highly recommend considering having your remaining pets there when another pet is put to sleep. Or at least allow them to see and investigate the body after they pass. We had one of our wonderful vets, Dr. Rienske from Dekens Vet come to our home. This was a much less stressful option for all of us to do it in the comfort of our home and one that I encourage you to consider when the time comes.

Deja was with us for the whole event and we kept Duke, Mya and Domi separate until it was finished. We knew Duke and Mya would become too excited and that Domi would just interfere because there was food. Deja is a quiet and gentle girl who quietly observed the whole thing and was provided with lots of cookies throughout. We allowed her to sniff and explore Guinniss afterwards, and then brought out Duke, Mya and Domi to do the same. They all moved slowly around and sniffed Guinniss quietly and we made sure to stay calm and reward them. I will never know if they fully comprehended what had happened, but it was important that they were allowed to be part of it in an attempt to help them process the fact that Guinniss was no longer with us.

Let them rest
As I mentioned, Duke and Deja were quiet and slept a lot after we said goodbye to Guinniss. We allowed them to sleep as much as they needed, and only woke them to feed them, potty them and get them outside. We made sure to keep the house quiet and activities calm. Some dogs may seem more restless after the loss of a pet. It is still important that you avoid highly stimulating activities. Provide them appropriate outlets for their stress through interactive toys and brain games.

img_6318Deja enjoying her recent trip

Get them out
We wanted to ensure the three dogs were still getting exercise and that we were providing ways to help elevate their moods. We spent the next week taking them out on small road trips and to new places to explore. We went to quiet areas, walked slowly and let them sniff and explore their surroundings. Sniffing can be stress-reducing for dogs, so we made sure that their walks allowed them to do this at their pace. They love their walks, so this was important to bring them some joy and get them out of the house.

Spend time with them
We gave them their space as they needed it. If Duke withdrew himself to the bedroom to rest, we let him do that. However we always made sure to offer regular affection and calm petting. We stayed home more and were around to ensure they were not isolated. We participated in quiet activities and stayed with them while reading, watching tv or working. We kept things quiet and ensured their time alone in the house was minimal for the first few days.

Give them time
Be patient and let them work through this at their own pace. Duke is back to normal, but Deja is still struggling. We have seen many of her sensitivities magnify and new ones appear since the loss of Guinniss. She has become more noise sensitive, unsure in new situations and jumpy in more stimulating environments. She has only ever known life with Guinniss at her side and they spent almost 13 years together. He was her big brother and was obviously a source of confidence for her. We have recognized her struggles and know we just need to give her time and do our best to keep her happy. We are still taking her out and working her through her fears, but are doing things at her pace.

Monitor your own emotions
It is an incredibly emotional time and you are going to be grieving and upset. Your dog will know this and feel your emotional state. It is ok to show this and be upset around your dog, but be aware of how you may be affecting them and the impact on them. Do not overuse them as a source of comfort and ensure you are also spending time with them participating in activities you both enjoy. There will be stress in the household and you cannot avoid that, but monitor how you may be affecting your surviving pets.

fullsizerender1Our crew Deja, Guinniss, Duke and Mya

Ways to minimize the impact of losing a pet
I felt like I had done work for this as we also had over a year to prepare for the loss of Guinniss. However, I did not expect it to have such an impact on Deja and witnessed more of it when we took herwith us to the west coast this month. I’ve outlined some key points to help minimize that impact on your surviving pets:

  • Alone Training. We advocate for this for a variety of reasons, but the value of this training became more apparent after we lost Guinniss. I spent a good portion of Deja’s life teaching her that it was ok to be alone. I would separate them at home while I was there, take them out on different outings and varied leaving one at home. If I had always kept them together, it would have been a very hard adjustment for Deja. Start this right away if you have multiple pets. You never know when they may need to be alone.
  • Follow the above points before the loss as well. If you have a pet that is dying in the household, things are changing and emotions and stress are increasing. Ensure you go through the above suggestions throughout this process and not just after the pet passes. It is easy to focus on the pet that is sick, but do not forget about the needs of your other pets.

Take care of yourself
If you are struggling with the loss of a pet, seek out pet loss support groups. There are some excellent groups in Calgary and a quick google search outlines options. Many vets also provide access to pet loss support groups. Do not forget to take care of yourself. You cannot help your pets if you do not take care of you. It is an incredibly hard time for everyone and my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by the loss of a pet. May they all be running free and enjoying time on the rainbow bridge.

Do you have any other ideas on ways you helped your other pets through the loss of a companion? If so, please share below!