Friday, May 15, 2015

Dog Safety & Calgary

There's been a lot of hysteria over a number of recent dog incidents in Calgary. These incidents were severe and included two canine deaths and a number of children that were bitten. Of course this has lead to the media calling for breed bans and a uneducated city counsellor suggesting all dogs should be muzzled for their first year and then subjected to a bandana system after that. I have some actual solutions that would solve our dog safety concerns.

#1 - Every single person who owns a dog should at the very least attend a series of dog training classes this includes puppy classes, basic manners, canine good neighbour class and more. Dog training should be an ongoing process that takes your pet from puppy to adult (not just 6 weeks or a do it at home job). I might add that I am a Professional Dog Trainer (certified by the CCPDT) and I still bring my own dogs to classes. This provides a stimulating environment to learn in and some constructive feedback from my peers. All dogs of all ages should go to classes.

#2 - If your dog has behaviour issues that include poor recall, aggression, anxiety or any sort of guarding behaviour please have a certified trainer come to your home for private sessions. This is incredibly important and should be a top priority.

#3 - Do not take anxious or aggressive dogs to the park. This is not the venue to socialize them. In fact aggressive dogs should wear muzzles in public and always be kept on leash. I've had a number of dogs who are running off leash in on leash areas attack my own dogs. These dogs should be taken from their owners.

#4 - Irresponsible owners (people who have complaints due to running at large, aggression, ect.) should pay higher licensing fees and should have to prove attendance with a trainer.

#5 - Don't allow your dog to be off leash in on leash areas. Other people and dogs may not want to interact with your dog. Keep your own pet safe by abiding by Bylaws as they exist for a reason.

Things for the public to keep in mind:

#1 - Breed doesn't mean a thing. It's all about socialization, genetics and good training. Every dog should be judged individually and anxious/aggressive dogs should have access to behaviour modification just like a sick dog should have access to a vet.

#2 - Muzzling puppies will stunt bite inhibition and learning. Also most of the aggression incidents we see as trainers do not include dogs under 1 year old. Most are adult dogs who have an escalating history of aggression.

Please be a responsible owner and spread the message. I've personally passed the Canine Good Neighbour test with ALL of my dogs... that's 6 CGNs now. Please take the time to teach your dog to be a good neighbour and to share our city safely.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Things I learned at the Agility Trial

I've taken two years off from dog shows. This was due to Marco having a knee injury and then my house fire. So I've spent the last 10 months training my dogs pretty hard in agility for our comeback and in Ari's case his first agility trial. 

The time off has allowed me to really think about why I do shows/trials and how to best prepare my dogs for them. And this past weekend I learned a lot. I love going to these events because it pushes me to work with my dogs several times a week and to grow my relationship with them. We're constantly learning together and I find that very rewarding. I believe they do too as they appear to love agility specifically. It's a really hard sport and just when you think you're ready something will come up and prove that no you're not. 



During this particular trial I had the most success I've ever had with Marco. He has had a marked improvement over previous trials. By success I mean he was the least stressed I've ever seen him at a trial, he was able to complete behaviours that he previously couldn't (although not as well as he does in practice) and he had some great success in the Jumpers events. He also had a pretty nice Steeplechase run but alas we still can't hit those weave poles on the first go in a trial (something to continue to practice). 

This was Ari's first trial so I wasn't sure what to expect. I wasn't sure how to warm him up (how early to take him out, how excited to get him, etc.). We were brand new and while at practice he has been extremely reliable and well behaved the trial environment is pretty different. I had mixed results to be honest. His first run on Saturday was great. He was the very first dog to go and while he made a mistake on course (ran by jump #3) it was because he was fast and I was out of position aka no big deal and I was really proud of him. Throughout the weekend I didn't know what was going to happen. He had a run in Gambler's where he qualified but the dog before us got Zoomies and raced around the ring. Ari watched this was great interest and as a result when it was his turn he wasn't listening very well until mid-way through. Luckily for me in Gambler's the end closing is really the most important part and he scored enough points before that. I did learn how to calm him down when he was wild in the ring (big score). He also had a Steeplechase run where he took one jump and then left the ring to go play with another dog. This has never happened to me ever... not with another dog, not in practice and definitely not in a trial. When he came up we leashed up and I took him for a time out. His next run he was great. I've learned that Ari can't really watch the dog before him or he gets either too excited or loses focus. I've learned he needs a food reward before he goes in the ring. And I've learned not to bring him out until almost the last minute as he gets stressed. I also learned some of the things I was worried about didn't come to fruition. On 5 out of 7 runs he listened perfectly and made some baby dog mistakes. He tried really hard to please and seemed to really enjoy himself. 

For both boys I realized that while spending a lot of time on weave poles is necessary I also failed to reinforce my contacts enough and both my boys were nervous on the dog walk (not the teeter which we practice a lot). This means I really need to practice that more as both boys would have had a Standard Q if I had. So lesson learned. 

We had fun and I left feeling good about my dogs and our training. I can't wait for the next one and to see where else we can go! 

I'm going to be attending two seminars this summer which should also help me a lot. I'm going to be attending an Agility Workshop with Kim Boyes in July and a Drive and Motivation seminar with Amanda Labadie in August. Both seminars are being hosted by Two Paws Up. I can't wait. All three of us have a lot to learn from this awesome ladies. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Up Trading

Have you ever tried to play fetch with your dog only to find Fido happily chases the ball, grabs it and then forgets all about the bringing back part?

Many dogs love to chase toys and they do really want you to throw them. They also adore having a "special" object in their mouth that is theirs. This can include toys, sticks and even prized possessions that your child will spend the next few hours screaming about.

So what's a fun loving dog owner to do? You want to play but Fido only gets half the game. Plus you don't really want your furry pooch stealing stuff around the house and playing keep away.

It's really important to teach your dog to up trade. Now what does that mean? The just is that they give up something and get something better. This encourages them to relinquish objects readily. And it does work even when you don't have a trade item down the road.

A great example would be my dog is fetching a ball. He brings it back. I say "Out" and show him a new ball. He drops the ball and I throw the new one. We can continue to play using two balls so there's always something exciting to chase and my dog doesn't feel conflicted about relinquishing the one he has.

Another example would be my dog retrieves a stuffed toy. I say "Out" and show my pup a treat. He drops the toy for the treat. I throw the toy and we resume "trading".

A really important note is to avoid taking the toy from your dog or chasing your dog around. You need to make them excited about your item and not worried about you taking something from them.

Give it a try!


Thursday, April 16, 2015

What Dogs Need

I'm pretty lucky in that in my line of work I get to meet the Pet Parents who are absolutely committed to their dogs and truly want what's best for them. They are willing to invest time, money and love into ensuring their best friend has the best possible life. What does catch me off guard if how many of them feel guilty that they are in some way screwing up their dog or not being a good Pet Parent. 



This is always a hard one for me as I worked for the Calgary Humane Society for 4.5 years and met some of the worst pet owners in this city. This includes people who felt that dogs were disposable and not worthy of the basic necessities of life. The Pet Parents I meet are polar opposites. 

Let's break it down a bit... why do you feel guilty? 

1. You feel as though your dog isn't getting enough exercise. 

This may or may not be true depending on the family I see and why the dog might not be getting exercise. If your dog is aggressive and a danger to the public then yes exercise is most likely something you put off or are very nervous about. If your dog gets too tired after a 20 minute walk this is also a reason people feel guilty. So let's break it down a bit... depending on the breed and age of your dog you may be over or under exercising. 

Puppies (8 to 16 weeks) are often not great candidates for long walks. I find 15 minutes for most puppies is more than enough. You can do 2-3 of these shorts walks in a day. And possibly for your puppy 5 minutes at a time is enough. They are often quite happy to sit outside with you and explore the world around them. You can try taking them new places and letting them sniff and explore. This will allow their brains to process new eliminates of the environment and for them to be socialized in a variety of places. 

Seniors are also often not great candidates for long walks but it does depend on the individual dog. Senior dogs may get sore from walking on pavement too. Try a park where you can allow your dog to walk on a long line at a slow pace on grass. Tailor your walk duration so that your dog does not get sore. 

High Energy Breeds - so let's face it I could walk my German Shorthaired Pointer for 4 hours straight on leash and he wouldn't be tired (not even a little bit). His exercise needs to be off leash running (Quadding seems to work well), hiking off leash so he can explore and smell or physical activity found in dog sports like agility or tracking. If you own a high energy working breed then you need to be participating in a diverse amount of activities that work the brain and the body. 



2. You work a long day (8 to 10 hours away from the home). 

This is another concern but a reality for most pet parents. You have to work to pay the bills so you and your dog can have a roof over your head and food on your plate. This is more than many dogs around the world have. You can only do your best. Great options for friendly, well adjusted dogs can be dog daycare 1-2 times per week or a dog walker everyday or every other day. If you can't afford that then try a walk in the morning where your dog can do lots of sniffing, followed up by interactive feeding with a Kong, Treat Stix or Tricky Treat Ball and another walk or dog sport activity once you're home from work. Most dogs (especially those in dog sports) need around 19 hours of sleep per day. Does that make you feel less guilty???

3. A few times a week you like to go out with friends, play human sports or eat dinner out. 

This is true for most pet owners and can be a real stress. Your dog is a part of your life but for most of us your dog isn't your whole life. If you want to do activities in the evening try to mix it up so your dog has had a great day the day before. This is another time when a dog walker, dog daycare or family friend can help you out. Try not to feel guilty and occasionally even my dogs have to put up with a boring day when I have other stuff on the go. This is usually when they'll get a nice awesome bone to snack on. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

My Dog Was Attacked

My clients have countless stories about off leash dogs coming after themselves or their pets. I’ve heard them and I’ve experienced it a few times myself. This past Monday I had a situation that I was completely unprepared to deal with and to be honest should never have happened.

I had been out of town for the long weekend and had some lovely family friends taking care of young Pointer. It was his first weekend as a solo dog and I was anxious to pick him up and see how he did. My friends don’t currently have a dog and did a great job of taking care him even though he had been slightly anxious without his pack around. When I pulled up into their driveway to pick him up I noticed a man with a large Rottweiler playing in the nearby children’s park. This violates bylaw in Calgary in that dogs are not permitted on or off leash in these areas. It is however a common occurrence so other than noting that they were there and seemed to be minding their own business I didn’t really think of it.



I loaded up my dog’s crate and belongings before returning to the house to get him. He wears a collar, gentle leader and leash. I made sure to put on his leash, as I didn’t want him getting overly excited and attempting to go visit the dog in the park. He’s usually pretty good about staying with me but why take an unnecessary risk.

I said goodbye to my friend and walked my dog the entire 12 feet from their front door to my Jeep parked right in their driveway. My dog was happy to go to the jeep and didn’t even notice the dog and man in the park. I had my back hatch open and he was ready to jump in when I saw the other dog running towards us across the street. The owner didn’t even attempt to call his dog. I could tell the approaching Rottweiler was coming in too fast to be friendly. I yelled him to attempt to deter him but he jumped on top of my top biting his head, neck, ear and even leg. My dog was secured by his leash and gentle leader and was unable to defend himself. I yelled and kicked at the other dog in an attempt to get him to back off. My friend came running from her home to assist but let’s face there’s not much too unarmed women can do against a dog this size and she was also pregnant. The man eventually made his way over and removed his dog. He never said a word to either of us. I checked over my dog. He was scared, bleeding from his ear and had puncture wounds and scratches along his head, neck and upper back. He also had a injury to his left front leg that I discovered the next day. I loaded my dog into my jeep and tracked down the man’s address once I saw which house he went into.

My dog is an intact male and other dogs before have attacked him. This generally happens in an off leash park setting and he’s showing discomfort before anything happens. He never instigates these events and continually the target of neutered males. This is however the first time my dog has been a significant distance away and not even looking at the other dog. This particular dog has very real dog aggression and his owner choose to run him off leash in a residential area where there are many neighbourhood dogs.



Now that some time has passed (a few days) and I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’ve come to realize that I need to be prepared for an incident at all times. I do carry an air horn with me when I go for walks to help break up dogfights. When you work with aggressive dogs for a living you understand that sometimes accidents happen. We can’t always predict the behaviour of our own animals and definitely not someone else’s. In this situation it was not an accident and the other owner was fully in the wrong. He failed to have control of his animal and he placed his dog in a situation where everything could go wrong. My dog and I are going to suffer the consequences of this, as I’m fairly certain this has damaged my dog’s ability to trust and meet new dogs of this type. He took a full 24 hours to begin acting like himself again.

So why the blog post? For two reasons I want to educate the public on why we need to follow animal bylaws and also what to do when/if this happens to you or your dog.

We need to follow bylaws not because we’re at risk of being fined. It’s because the bylaws are designed to prevent aggression and allow dogs to live in a community in peace with each other and humans. Every single dog owner should be familiar with the bylaws in their area, which include leash laws, noise compliance and tethering. In Calgary, the leash laws are very specific and they are designed to keep everyone safe. Just because you feel your dog has strong obedience or is friendly doesn’t mean everyone else using the public spaces will feel safe around your dog. If I am walking my dog on leash it might be because he’s sick, not friendly or because I believe in following bylaws and my dog and I most likely don’t want to meet your dog while he’s off leash.

If your dog isn’t friendly with other dogs there are options for exercising, which include leash walking, hiking in remote areas on a long line and visiting a fenced area where you can safely run your dog and keep him/her away from others. Using a basket muzzle as a back up for safety would also make sense. It is your job to not put your dog in a situation where he/she feels they need to act aggressively towards other animals or people. If you can’t do this then you aren’t responsible enough to have a dog period.

If you have questions about responsible dog management and need help with behaviour modification for aggression please contact an appropriate dog trainer or behaviourist to help. Look for trainers who have their CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA or KPA certifications.

So what do you do when this happens? I can tell you from experience that these situations can occur quickly and you won’t always respond as well as you could. I definitely could have done a few things different when this dog came after mine. The first would be having my air horn on hand. I definitely did not think I needed it for 12 feet of walking but I did know the other dog was outdoors off leash and I could have had it just in case. I was only thinking about managing my dog and not that the other owner was not despite being shown evidence that he wasn’t following bylaw and therefore most likely wasn’t very responsible.  

I did a great job of not putting my hands in between two fighting dogs, which is crucial to human safety. I could have attempted to grab the other dog’s hind end. At the time this seemed far too dangerous but in hindsight may have been more effective than kicking. I could always have directed the other owner on what to do however I am not completely convinced that would have jolted him into action. But it wouldn’t have hurt to try.

And finally I need to ensure that I am taking my dog out for walks and reinforcing him heavily when we see another dog that is similar. He needs to know I will protect him and that he is fine so that my own dog does not develop reactivity or dog aggression.