Woofstock: a review

Our city is crazy enough as it is with all the pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, etc…but now gather over 300,000 dogs and their humans (combined) together in the span of five city blocks, along with loud music, people yelling into microphones, food and drink everywhere, garbage strewn about and piles of ‘caca de chien’ that people have completely missed picking up, overflowing garbage bins covered in urine, and tell me that your dog is not going to become completely over-stimulated.

Yesterday, I ran into some very interesting people and wanted to give you a glimpse:

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Salinger: Week Two

Week Two and this little guy is starting to really settle. He makes me laugh out loud on a regular basis and I'm consistently blown away by his resilience. Walks are a lot of fun in this gorgeous weather as we explore the neighbourhood and meet some of the friendly dogs who live near us. There's a lot of exploring and grasshopper-hunting.

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Salinger: Week One

Salinger has been with me for one week and so far I have taught him to sit. That's it. I'm not worried about "obedience" at this stage. He's just a puppy! What I'm worried about are positive experiences. We explore the neighbourhood, we try a different route every day, we visit local businesses (paramedics, police station, long-term care facility, construction sites, etc) and even if it's just stepping in the door and experiencing a different kind of flooring and having a few treats and a little dance party, that's a great experience. I don't expect anything of him!

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Alpha Rolls and Alpha Roles

Dear well-meaning people in dog parks,

Please, for the love of doG, stop giving advice to other dog guardians that includes telling them to pin their dog on the ground after the dog has behaved in a way that concerns you.

What you have done with this advice is the following: 
a) put the person pinning the dog at risk for a serious bite
b) put the dogs near the dog who is being pinned at risk for a serious bite
c) caused long-lasting emotional trauma to the dog being pinned
d) made yourself *feel* good, but look very uneducated

Don't believe me? Ask the dog who mauled me in 2009 because I pinned him. Ask the many clients who have had to undergo reconstructive surgery because they pinned their dog.

Alpha rolling is NOT an acceptable human behaviour and it is no less inappropriate and damaging than alpha rolling a 3 year old child in the middle of a daycare.


I appreciate the business your well-meaning but dangerous advice brings me, but I would much rather see SAFE advice coming from people who have not studied animal behaviour and psychology.

What can you do when you see a dog behaving inappropriately in a dog park?

a) commiserate with them because we've all had *that* dog
b) ask them to retrieve their dog and take a break by going for a leashed walk
c) remove YOUR dog and recommend to others to do the same
d) hand them one of our business cards and let them know that behaviour change CAN happen but it's best to seek professional advice
e) avoid judgement, emotion, and conflict as best as you can - it's very frustrating to have a dog behave in a way that makes others uncomfortable

Thank you in advance,

An Actual Certified Professional Animal Trainer Who Has Studied Animal Behaviour And Psychology And Truly Understands Behavioural Science As Opposed to Dog Whispering Myths and Silliness.

Board and Train Solutions for your Dog

Years ago I met a couple in my condo building with two lovely beagles (we'll call them Denver and Georgia). They were about a year and a half old, litter mates and had been living with the couple since 8 weeks of age. When we saw them in the lobby or elevator, the dogs would sit silently staring at the door and completely avoiding all eye contact with me and with Parker. If any dog moved toward them, they would swiftly move in another direction as if they hadn't noticed them. I always thought it was odd that they were so anti-social and even then when I wasn't a trainer, I noticed their blunt affect.

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It is not acceptable to use a shock collar on a dog and call it "training". It is beyond insulting to me, my colleagues, my mentors, my industry. It infuriates me to see it time and again. How anyone can think that sending an electric current through a dog's neck or genitals is an acceptable way to teach another sentient being how to "behave" is beyond me. It's the person holding the remote who needs to learn how to behave appropriately, as far as I'm concerned. 

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Recovering Cranky Canine Regressions

Regressions are normal. You've likely heard this before and you'll hear it again. 

When changing behaviour, there are no guarantees. Nothing is written in stone, nothing is 100% predictable. You might change one behaviour and another one pops up, like a game of whack-a-mole at the carnival. 

It's discouraging, no doubt. We trainers are used to it and we've even come to expect it.

We run multiple reactive dog classes every week, and even more private cases focusing on modifying reactivity. Every trainer we have on staff has (or has had in the past) a reactive dog. We feel your pain more than you can imagine. We have been in your shoes so many times. 

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The "Dog Park Dog Trainer"

We dog trainers have what we call a negative conditioned emotional response to a few things in the dog world. The terms "alpha", "pack leader", "stubborn" and (human) behaviours like alpha rolling, or the use of positive punishment (leash corrections, shock collars, physical reprimands). 

A common one comes to mind this week after three separate clients came to me and stated "this week I tried [XYZ] because there was a dog trainer in the dog park and (s)he said that it's very effective." 

It's hard to bite my tongue in those moments because [XYZ] is generally well-meaning but poor or dangerous advice from someone who may be a hobby dog trainer, but has little to no education in the field. More often than not I have to undo the damage there and explain why pinning the dog on the ground after he barked at the dog who was relentlessly humping him [or insert some other normal dog behaviour here] is not only ineffective but dangerous and considered inhumane..

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Your Dog's Cottage Survival Guide

Summertime is cottage time for many of us and that includes our four-legged friends. While we all dream of our summertime travels being relaxing, oftentimes a lack of preparation causes more stress than we bargained for. 

Whether you're heading to the cottage or a pet-friendly hotel or resort, or even simply to visit family and friends, this list of tools and tips will help you prepare for the worst and hopefully in turn give you the peaceful and enjoyable vacation you imagine. 

Summertime is cottage time for many of us and that includes our four-legged friends. While we all dream of our summertime travels being relaxing, oftentimes a lack of preparation causes more stress than we bargained for. 

Whether you're heading to the cottage or a pet-friendly hotel or resort, or even simply to visit family and friends, this list of tools and tips will help you prepare for the worst and hopefully in turn give you the peaceful and enjoyable vacation you imagine. 

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Gimme That!

There are many behaviours that despite domestication, dogs still exhibit. “Resource guarding” is the first that comes to mind. While ball or food obsession seems harmless to many, it can be the start of a more dangerous behaviour down the road. Resource guarding is an evolutionarily advantageous behaviour - meaning it is necessary for survival.

If you think about it, humans do it too! We lock our homes when we leave, we set alarm systems, we even put passcodes on our smartphones and passwords on our online bank accounts. If anyone tried to bypass our system, we would leap into action to protect our valuables. 

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My biomedical scent detection project

For the past year and a half I have been doing a project at a hospital in Toronto (a collaborative project with researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax) which has been a dream come true in a sense: I have been able to combine my PhD education and 15+ years of experience as a researcher in cell biology and my love of training dogs. The project is in a relatively new and emerging field, biomedical scent detection research, the purpose of which is to investigate whether dogs’ sense of smell can be used to diagnose diseases. In my case the focus is on training dogs to detect a pathogenic micro-organism which is a major concern in healthcare facilities and certain communities. I still need to be cryptic here as the study is not published as we speak, but I want to share some observations and personal thoughts that have been on my mind regarding the training aspect of it.

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How much do you have in your bank?

I often imagine the dog training experience as a series of banking transactions - the visual really helps me to measure our work but also to gauge where we may have a deficit or where the dog has a need. 

When we bring home a puppy, we often make a series of assumptions that can be quite harmful - how many times do we trainers hear "oh my dog is fine with that. I can [manhandle, groom, pick up, travel with, etc...] him and he doesn't care.". Every. Single. Day. 

The challenge is this - there is a HUGE difference between tolerance and enjoyment and most of us don't actively seek out the difference in every moment we spend with our dogs. 

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The Many Benefits of Dog Sports

If you think of the practice of dog sports as a competitive and fairly serious business, you’re only about 10 percent right. Just as in human athletic pursuits, the vast majority of dog sports enthusiasts are hobbyists; happy amateurs not much interested in ribbons or plaques. So what hooks people? The numerous benefits two- and four-legged sportsmen alike reap. For starters, a quick alphabetic inventory reveals something for every ability and temperament: agility, caniscross, disc dog, dock diving, earthdog, flyball, freestyle, herding, lure coursing, mushing, nose work, rally-o, tracking, treibball, and weight pulling. An exhaustive list would be much longer, of course, and still wouldn’t include the many fun, creative activity classes trainers, dog facilities, and dog groups might offer.

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Treat Ideas for Dog Training

We are always being asked "what type of treats should I use to train my dog"? 

Oftentimes we have students who come to class and halfway through, their dogs lose interest in the treats. When we ask our infamous question "what's on the menu?", we find out that there's low value treats or even that the high value treats are cut too large and thus the dog fills up too quickly. 

We wanted to put together a list of some ideas for you that are quick, cheap, and easy...

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Just wait here...

As I walk through the city of Toronto on a daily basis, I am still shocked to see how many people still tie their dogs up outside outside stores and leave them for a stretch of time. I’ll admit to doing it up until 2011 when we had a series of dog-nappings in the city and my eyes were opened to the dangers. 

Dog-napping is not the only concern that is a reality when we tie our dogs up outside, but it’s a very real one. Dogs who are stolen are sold on Kijiji and Craigslist, sold for research (yes, that happens here in Ontario!), used as bait dogs in dog fighting rings, walked around the city for days/weeks/months/years on end by the homeless.

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What's your dog's currency?

When training our dogs, it's crucial to consider their currency. What does that mean? How does your dog like to get paid? What do they find most reinforcing? 

When we go to work, we get paid in the form of money - paycheques and monetary bonuses. If the paycheque stopped suddenly, we would question and likely stop working. Imagine if your boss sent you an envelope with Monopoly money in it on payday in place of your regular cheque! 

Let's consider some variables - sometimes the US dollar is more reinforcing than the Canadian dollar (like right now) and other times it's the reverse. Sometimes winning a trip to Hawaii is more exciting than the equivalent in a cash prize. 

When it comes to dogs, there are so many options for reinforcement out there - all you have to do is get to know your dog!

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