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

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

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

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

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

For decorations at your home:

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

For decorations when you are out on walks:

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

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

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

For introducing your dog to costumes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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: 3 Steps for a Successful Spring

dog in pink rainboots smallSpring should be fun for your dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan’s Musings: How We Stress Out Our Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Megan’s Musings: Learning from Belize Dogs

miaMe and Mia at the Pickled Parrot

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

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

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

mexico dogA Mexican dog enjoying a back massage

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

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

mia2Mia keeping Kris working fetch duty

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

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

Megan’s Musings: 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

Guinniss

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 training@dogmatraining.com!

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

easter bunny

We held our fifth annual Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt in April 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!