Thinking & Problem Solving... Mentally Stimulating Activities For Your Pup

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In our last blog entry, we spoke a lot about the importance of keeping your dog healthy with exercise but that is only be half of the equation when it comes to taking care of the overall well-being of your furry family member.  To avoid the common misconception that in order to create fatigue, you have to walk, run, hike or play fetch with Fluffy for hours on end, we have to acknowledge what I call the "Forest Gump Effect".  Even for a human, simply getting up every day and doing nothing but running would indeed create physical exhaustion but what happens to your mind when the only need that you're satisfying is the physical element via ongoing or relentless physical exercise?  Now, for those of you who might initially disagree, you have clearly not had to sit through a full day of meetings or a workshop where there was little, if any, physical stimulation but instead it was all thinking, problem solving, discussing, learning and teaching.  If you're at all like me, I am exhausted after such a day!

The key to overall well-being is creating BALANCE between the physical and mental needs of your canine friend(s).  Physical exercise is awesome but needs to be balanced with mental stimulation and vice versa.

There are tonnes of options available for pet parents in this 6B/year pet care industry to satisfy the mental needs of our pets, however, I want to make sure that you are indeed investing your money on items that are safe and will stand the test of time.  In my house, we have 4 dogs who vary significantly in their activity level and willingness to problem solve but the one this that many dogs have in common is a great sense of small and a strong desire to eat yummy things.

For the purposes of this blog entry, I am going to break down the options into 3 fundamental groups, (1) Treat Dispensing Toys (2) Food Driven Chew Toys and, (3) Puzzles and Problem Solving Games.

Just like with physical games and activities, the size of your dog is the very first consideration.  You certainly don't want to purchase any product that, due to it's size, either can't be used by your little pup or that, if used by your larger dog, has parts/equipment that would be unsafe.  The second and equally important consideration is the ability to clean to toy after use to prevent bacteria. The third consideration is going to be difficulty level/ease of use for your pup.

Treat dispensing toys can add a lot of variety to your dog's playtime either indoors or outside.  Most of these are not intended to be left with the dog unsupervised but offer a great way to keep your dog busy when they need some mental stimulation or when you need a bit of a break (making dinner, watching a television show, folding laundry or just sitting outside on the deck wanting to enjoy your day with your dog constantly wanting you to entertain them).  The trick to making these toys last longer than it takes to empty the treats is all in how you load them.  I recommend always putting 1 or 2 pieces of especially yummy/smelly treats in the toy that are simply too big to come out during regular use. By doing this, the toy is never actually empty and will maintain the dog's attention for a longer period of time.  You can fill these with yummy treats (with 1 -3 BIG pieces) OR, if your dog eats a dry kibble, this is also a great way to feed your dog their entire meal.  Here are a few that we use on a regular basis that are easy to clean, versatile and have stood the test of time.

Now maybe the goal is to get your dog to slow down a bit when they're eating to avoid indigestion, choking or maybe even spitting out mouthfuls of food because they are "Hoover-ing" their meals.  The treat dispensing toys above will certainly assist in slowing them down during meal times AND cause them to have to "work" and "think" for their meals but if your sole goal is simply to slow them down, you probably have all that you need right in your home already.  In cases like this, put the dog's meal into the individual sections of a plain muffin tin OR you can make things a bit more difficult still by turning the muffin tin upside down and pouring the food onto the backside as it lies on the floor.  Another rather popular method is to place a safe object in the bowl that the dog has to work around in order to get to the food.  You could try a ball or another small household item - just be sure that the item placed in the bowl cannot be otherwise consumed.

For those times when you want to leave a toy with food with your dog when you can't be with them for short periods the only products recommended for such instances need to stand up to chewing.  Again, it's all in how you load them that makes all of the difference.  Using a soft mouldable treat substance such as peanut butter, spreadable cheese product or yogurt, put some into the toy and place some yummy treats in the mixture randomly.  Once you have prepared the toy by filling it with the yummy mixture, freeze it!  Freeze it for at least 12 hours (advisable to have more than 1 of these types of toys on hand so you always have one ready to go in the freezer).  Here are my favourites (again, you want to initially purchase the size that will be most appropriate for your dog when they are fully gown):

Now to really get serious about learning and problem solving, we have to really engage the dog to move through varying degrees of thinking and also using their sense of smell to best guide them through to the treat.  Puzzle toys are a wonderful way to entice the dog to use their natural abilities to solve the puzzle/game.  The method of loading of these puzzles/games is less important since the dog will have to get creative and work for the treats.  Using what you know of your dog's creative abilities combined with their drive for yummy treats, it's important to select the puzzle toy most appropriate for your pup.  We certainly don't want the puzzle to be too difficult causing them to be frustrated but at the same we don't want it to be so easy that they solve it in a matter of seconds.  Choosing a puzzle that allows you to increase the level of difficulty with their increasing ability will be important.  Puppies should begin with the most simply of puzzle games since they can get easily frustrated and lose patience.  Pay close attention to the smaller pieces of the puzzle to make sure that there are none that would be easily swallowed even when supervised.  Here are a few of our favourites by difficulty level.

Easy/Puppy Level

Medium - Difficult Level

The COMBO - for physical and mental stimulation at the same time. The dog learns to retrieve the ball and bring it back to the launch machine so another ball can be launched.

Now while all of this looks lovely, there is an investment of time that needs to be made when introducing your dog to a new game or puzzle.  Up until this point, they haven't had to use their brain too much aside from some basic obedience commands and now we are asking them to think about things in exchange for a motivator.  It's important that you know that the first time that they use any of these puzzles/games, you are going to be right beside them to show/teach them how it works.  Don't make things too difficult right away - be prepared to ease them into it with you as their guide.  This is a wonderful investment of your time however.... in my experience, a half an hour with an interactive puzzle/game creates the same amount of fatigue as a 2 hour walk.  You no longer need to dread cold or rainy days!

Many of the puzzles and games can be purchased at your local pet store if time is of the essence however, I have found that the prices on Amazon to be significantly lower and, because of this, I have listed the links right here on this page in an attempt to allow you to see the actual product and click on any of the pictures for details about each product.

I am happy to share with you those things that we have found to be most beneficial for the dogs in our care and doesn't cost a small fortune in replacement costs.  We use these puzzles and games every single day here at Paw & Order and they have proven themselves time and time again :). 

Now, go and get busy working alongside your dog to help them learn to use that wonderfully creative brain of theirs for good and not trying to find new ways for you to entertain them.

Until next time.... keep on learning :)

Posted on May 11, 2018 .

Have you Heard the News? Canine Influenza has come to Canada!

It's true... the canine influenza "bug" has crossed the border into Canada and it's definitely something we should start talking about.  No, it's not in our area of the country yet but all it takes is for one dog to go on vacation with their family to an affected area and bring it back to NB or the gradual spread across our great nation - 1 sick dog at a time.

Canine Influenza (dog flu) has two known strains to be concerned about:

  1. H3N8 originally an equine flu virus that jumped to dogs
  2. H3N2 originally an avian flu virus that jumped to dogs
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There is no evidence that either strain can be transmitted to humans BUT humans CAN transport it from one dog to another.

Having said this, we have to consider that it's headed this way and it's something that our local area vets have never really had to deal with before unless they have worked elsewhere.  Many are familiar with the general symptoms but have not had to treat it first-hand.  

If it comes to our area, everyone with a dog who goes outside will run the risk of exposure to a  dog carrying the virus or to a location when a carrying dog has shed the virus on an object like a street sign or fire hydrant.  The infected dog may be showing symptoms or may be asymptomatic (not showing symptoms) for the flu, but still contagious. Symptoms usually start out very similar to CIRDC (Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex a.k.a canine cough) so it can be all too easily be initially dismissed as such. In addition to a cough, eye discharge and a runny nose that come with a "cold" most flu cases present with a few additional clues.  Prolonged coughing fits, difficulty breathing, lethargy and decreased appetite should be more causes for concern. Canine influenza has about an 80 percent infection rate and this is because it is a relatively new disease, and natural immunity has not occurred.

There is a vaccine out there to better protect our canine furry family members but many local vets don't have it on-hand because they have never needed it.  This is where we need to open to doors of communication and start asking our local vets if they can get it should canine influenza come to our area and how quickly could they immunize your dog.  Keep in mind that for a first time vaccine, it takes several weeks to allow for peak protection.

There are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of exposure:

  • Keep your dog at home if they are sick or if there is a confirmed outbreak. There is a 2-4 day incubation period for canine influenza, and that perfectly healthy looking dog may be shedding the virus all over the place. Some dogs may have the flu but be completely asymptomatic. No greetings means no nose-to-nose, no saliva exchange (bowls, toys, etc.), and no butt sniffing.  Since the virus is exchanged through respiratory secretions, stay out of sneezing, coughing and barking "spit" range. 
  • Keep your dog under close by. This means a flat leash, shortened as much as possible when passing other dogs. If you’re using a 15’ flexi-leash, you’re has way too much room to roam. If you think you don’t need to keep your dog on a leash because “he always listens to you”, please re-think this opinion. You may be willing to risk your own dog’s health by letting him roam freely, but it’s unfair to other owners to let your dog be Patient Zero because he/she likes to roam around the neighbourhood and smell everything in sight.
  • Good hygiene is your friend. Fomites are your enemy. Wash your hands, wipe your shoes, and clean your surfaces, especially if you have contact with other dogs. The virus can be transported between dogs via humans on our clothing, skin, footwear, etc.  So many people say something like "I don't know where they caught it. They haven't been anywhere but at home."  This may very well be true but you could have easily brought it home with you after visiting with a friend who shook your hand after petting their own infected pooch 5 hours earlier. The virus is live and infectious on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothes for 24 hours and on hands for 12 hours.
  • Evaluate your risk. We highly encourage vaccination whether you have a stay-at-home or highly social dog, ask your vet about vaccinations.Although the vaccination cannot absolutely eliminate the chances of your dog coming down with the flu, it certainly increases their chances of keeping it out of their system and mitigate the effects of the flu if they do get the virus. Be sure to inquire about the vaccine that covers both of the strains (called a “bivalent”) and keep in mind that peak immunity won’t kick in until a couple of weeks after the vaccine has been administered.  Most often the vaccine is a two step process involving an initial vaccine and the a booster a few weeks later so waiting until it has already come to you local area to inquire with your vet might not be okay.   

Now this isn't meant to be a post of doom and gloom but instead a post of education and awareness... to get the ball rolling so to speak. The more we know, the better choices we can make.  So let's get talking about it with our pet care providers so we aren't taken by surprise.  Always better to be prepared with the information and not need it as opposed to not having the information and needing it. 

Until next time.... let this happy tails wag on.....

Posted on January 25, 2018 .

Saying Goodbye to a Furry Family Member

Last week, we had to make a very difficult decision in our household. Our beloved 12 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback, Ryker, had been struggling with a partially torn ligament in his hind leg for a few weeks and it wasn't getting better.  After a few vet consults, it was determined that he was a perfect candidate for a new treatment called PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) injection since the ligament was only "partially torn".  We scheduled his appointment to receive the treatment and took him to the doctor so his leg would feel better ASAP, after all, he had already been dealing with this for a month. 

About a half an hour after dropping him off, we got a call from our vet who was going to do the treatment.  It wasn't good news. Long story short, it was suspected that Ryker had bone cancer. Of course, we did the test to be sure... I mean, what if they were wrong... but I knew in my heart that our vet knows what he's doing and I suspect he's rarely mistaken. We were looking for peace of mind or at least some type of reassurance that whatever was causing his discomfort wasn't fixable. It wasn't.  And Ryker, although very stoic, was in pain.

Many of you reading this entry have gone through something similar. THE toughest decision in pet ownership.  If you haven't gone through it but have a furry family member, you're likely to go through it at some point.  I look at it this way.... it's the ONLY thing that your pet ever asks of you.  When it's time and they are suffering or uncomfortable (or will about to be), we need to make the decision and be their voice to make sure that they don't continue to suffer. We have to be their voice to ease their burden of pain.  Ryker gave us 12 wonderful years of joy and love and the only thing he ever needed from me was to put HIM FIRST when the time came.  All we wanted to do was take him home and snuggle up close to him. Press our faces into him and breathe deeply to smell him and feel his warmth beside us. Cover him with a blankie (his favorite thing) and enjoy simply being beside him.  In our hearts we knew that time would never come. Why? Because taking him home to do that with him would have been ONLY for our benefit. The whole time, he would have tolerated it but would also have been in pain. To take him home that day would not have done him any good at all, not one bit. So we made the difficult choice to allow him to be pain free and let him go to the Rainbow Bridge in the most humane way possible.  Why? Because we loved him.

We stopped at McDonald's and bought him a burger & fries and proceeded to the vet clinic.  We had a picnic on the floor with him and he gobbled up his treats with excitement. We hugged him, kissed him and spent some time with him before saying our final goodbye.  We stayed right beside him so he wasn't scared and, in a blink of an eye, he was gone.

We took him to the vet that morning for a treatment that would make him better only to not have him come home at all.  Why am I sharing this today? Because I think it's important for people to know about responsible pet ownership.  Some people get furry family members sometimes already recognizing that they are taking on a responsibility but very few realize the enormity and duration of that assignment.  When you bring one of these souls into your life and into your home your are signing up to take care or and protect a life.... for a lifetime.  You are signing up for 12 - 20 years of training (yours and theirs), education, nutrition, socialization, healthcare, creating stimulating activities (physical, mental and emotional) and the responsibility of making sure that, at the end of the time you have together, you are there for them and do what needs to be done for THEM.  Twelve years of happiness, comfort and joy and only one moment of despair (although it feels like an eternity sometimes when that moment is happening).

I have counseled many friends and clients through this process over the years. Not one of these conversations has been easy. It's the toughest part of having and loving a family pet. We give them great loving homes and happy/healthy lives and they ask for only one single thing from us... to do the right thing for them when they need us the most. So what do I say to my clients?  My wish for them is that the time is short for that final memory.  That the picture and memory of the pet's final moments is soon replaced with only the happy memories that came before. It will happen... eventually. I wish them peace in knowing that they did the most selfless thing when it was the hardest to do. I wish them a heart that heals quickly. Finally I offer the reassurance that for the lifetime of that pet, they showed great love, compassion and kindness to a furry soul who needed them.

So the question is.... how will you spend the 12-20 years with them before that final moment?  Make those moments count... make memories together! Snuggle in, breathe deep, share adventures... those are the moments that are going to count when YOU need them most.

Until next time, hugs your furry family members a little bit tighter tonight and be thankful that you get to be a part of their lives.

Posted on November 6, 2017 .

Cough, Cough, Sneeze, Cough

September came in with a blast for the Fredericton and Oromocto areas with a wicked blast of upper respiratory illness for our furry canine friends that sent many dogs racing to veterinary offices for assistance with their cough or sneeze.  Their humans are looking for information and answers.  We are so appreciative of the efforts made by our local area vet offices to provide care and attention these furbabies to get it under control in our community. 

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Here at Paw & Order we also took several steps to minimize the spread of the cough from one furkid to the next.  We immediately closed our daily daycamp program for a week to allow dogs who were potentially carrying the virus to develop symptoms, receive treatment and fully recover before returning to our facility. Any pet in our care who was suspected of either  being a potential carrier or having come into contact with a potential carrier was immediately placed into our quarantine area with its own fresh air supply and entrance/exit to the building. We also increased our disinfecting procedures to “outbreak mode” to ensure that all indoor and outdoor areas were being assessed and treated.  We postponed the start date of our classes, imposed restrictions when dogs could return to play and made several other changes during this time in an effort to keep this virus out of our facility since the health and well-being of our beloved furry clients is our top priority. As an additional safety measure, today we began the process of dismantling all of the walls in our overnight guest suite area and replacing them with new fiberglass panels to further reduce the number of tiny crevices where germs could possibly reside and we intend to cover the flooring with an epoxy coating. We tracked and charted “symptom start” dates and “first day symptom-free” dates in order to get some data for our local vet offices after having discussed the situation with our partner veterinary office.  Using this data, have been able to determine that the average incubation period for this virus seems to be approximately 7 – 9 days before symptoms first appear and, in most cases, the cough/runny nose lasts 3-6 days.  The incubation period of the virus is proving to be the most difficult part in keeping it contained.  We are also working with a client to get an actual nasal swab of an infected dog to determine EXACTLY what illness we are dealing with in our community.  We reached out to a city official to ask that the City of Fredericton post a sign at the dog park advising dog owners of the outbreak. 

Why are we going through the effort and expense? Because these furbabies are worth it! Period. Regardless of whether the sick dogs are our clients or not, as a community we need to come together to protect our furry friends!

I do indeed get frustrated and angered when I see obvious steps not being taken by petcare professionals in our industry to get this under control quickly to minimize spreading and shedding to keep dogs from getting sick. Or worse yet, some pet parents getting inaccurate information about vaccinations and treatment options and "cheap and easy" solutions to rid facilities of the virus are being implemented when that very "fix" may very well be causing more harm than good.  During this community outbreak, we have seen first-hand that our community needs more information on disease, potential threats and pet vaccinations. We need to educate, research and involve ourselves in our pet's health and well-being. We need to have better conversations with our veterinarians who are there to help and guide us.  Just like going to your own family doctor, a little research in advance might just help you to ask the right questions and have better, more fruitful conversations with your veterinarian.

We are looking forward to this cycle of upper respiratory illness leaving our community and SOON!  In the meantime, educate, educate, educate!

Posted on October 4, 2017 .

It's Safer in a PACCC

I know it's been a while since my last Blog entry and, trust me, when I say it's been a busy few months around these parts.  Summertime is "high season" for us with many people taking their vacation and needing a safe place to have their fur babies stay while they're away.  Taking care of people's family pets is a serious responsibility that shouldn't be taken lightly by either the pet owner or the pet care facility.  That's why we are extremely proud to be a part of the PACCC!!

PACCC (Professional Animal Care Certification Council) is an international third party organization that provides certification to people in the pet care industry who have the training and knowledge to provide care for people's furry family members. In order to achieve certification, the pet care provider is required to study and pass a written exam actually proving their knowledge multiple areas that are used every day in pet care facilities around the world. There are actually 3 level of certification:

  • CPACP - Certified Animal Care Provider
  • CPACM - Certified Animal Care Manager
  • CPACO - Certified Animal Care Operator

Each of these levels has different areas of required knowledge and each prove that the animal care provider has the training and knowledge to work with family pets.

Is it easy to get certified? Nope! The exam is tough - as it should be! If it were easy, then everyone could get certified regardless of skill or knowledge and the process would lose its' credibility. AND, once you're certified, it's only valid for 3 years. In order to keep your certification you need to obtain Continuing Education Credits proving that you are still learning and possess the most up to date information on health, wellness, training and animal behaviour.

Depending on the level of certification, the exam is between 125 and 225 questions covering a wide variety of topics including canine body language, sanitation, first aid and emergencies, administering food and medications, anatomy, safe standards protocol, identifying health conditions, off-leash dog play, providing care for geriatric and special needs pets, documentation, evacuation standards, animal management, animal temperament, operational safety, code of ethics, extreme weather and emergency preparedness, staff expectations, etc. etc. etc.

I am proud to be PACCC certified!!!!

In virtually every industry, some type of independent third party certification is required before you start practicing. Think about it...  would you go to an un-registered massage therapist or perhaps to a doctor who doesn't have their medical license! You want to know, 100%, that these professionals have proven that they know what they're doing!!

Now I'm not writing this Blog entry today as a marketing ploy..... I don't want to be set apart because of my certification.... I want all animal care providers to be certified!!  I am writing it to let people know that they should be asking their pet care provider to get certified. Yes, it takes time to study and some dollars to write the exam.... but shouldn't certification be an EXPECTATION of the public??  Or is it currently a misinformed assumption???  I know that before I started down this road of providing pet care to furry family members, I assumed that if someone had a business of providing care to my pet, they were licence and certified.

What the public should find absolutely terrifying is that there are only 66 people in the world who are actually certified to take care of other people's pets for a living. 66!!  There are only 2 of us in Canada - one in British Columbia and me, here in New Brunswick.  Compare these numbers to the number of daycare and overnight boarding facilities that are out there charging money for a skill set that they may or may not actually possess.  I look forward to a day when my certification no longer sets us apart from other facilities.... to a day when certification is actually required in order to operate a doggie daycare or provide overnight care.

Aside from certification... did you know that, in New Brunswick, there are NO REGULATIONS governing doggie daycares? Facilities only require an NBSPCA licence if the facility allows dogs/cats stay overnight! No training? No inspection? No rules? No standards? Nothing. What kind of a place do we live where someone can take 25 dogs off-leash, put them all together, charge the public $$ for a service and have absolutely no inspection or standards about food, water, shelter, emergency procedures, vet care, etc.... And there are so many places out there that keep animals overnight who don't actually have the licence.  If you charge any type of fee in exchange for keeping animals overnight, you MUST be licensed and inspected and your license needs to be in plain view AND on every marketing initiative/ad - even Craig's List and Kijiji.  

Some of you may have already known about PACCC certification and about the NBSPCA licence requirements but I'm willing to bet that most of you are as shocked as I was when I found out.  Education is important... people should know about this. So please, start talking... start asking.... start demanding. These animals have no voice of their own and we, as pet parents, should expect more for them.

My dream is that some day every single person who wants to provide care for animals will need to PROVE that they have the knowledge, skills and a physical environment to do so... safely!

For more information about PACCC, check out www.paccert.org

If you are reading this and currently or plan to work at OR operate a daycare/boarding facility and would like to become certified, I am willing to help you! Just contact me...

For more information about the standards of licensing in New Brunswick, check out the NBSPCA ACT and the Code of Practice for Canadian Kennel Operations published by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

 

 

Posted on August 13, 2017 .

Collars and Leashes and Fences... OH MY!

Barely a week goes by in my world without someone asking about my opinion on leashes or collars or even fences and what kind(s) are right for their dog. It's a much more complicated question than it appears on the surface so I figure I would tackle all 3 topics today.  There are so many of these pet products available on the market today and, make no mistake, with a pet industry boasting annual profits of over a $6 billion/year these companies are looking to sell you as many as they can and are hoping that you try them all. In writing this blog, I am hoping to help my readers to invest their hard earned dollars on what they need and prevent the unnecessary spending on products that may be ineffective or worse yet, harmful to your furry friends.

COLLARS - there are so many styles, colours, materials, sizes and brands out there that it's easy to be drawn into the "collar aisle" in your local pet store for a half hour picking out Fluffy's brand new "look". Basically we recommend a flat nylon adjustable collar for the vast majority of cases.  They can be sized correctly and washed frequently so they are great for everyday use in the average home.  These collars make up the majority of the collar aisle so there are plenty of colours and patterns to choose from to get Fluffy looking dapper in no time.  Having said this, sizing is the most important element when selecting one of these collars.  Save yourself some time and take a measurement of the circumference of your dog's neck before heading out.  When fitted properly, an adult should be able to easily slide 2 fingers (holding your hand flat against the dog's neck) between the collar and the dog. If you can only slide 1 finger (without pushing in against the dog) then it's too tight and likewise if you can slide 3 or more fingers, then the collar is too loose and poses an increased risk of collar injuries/fatalities or having the dog back out of their collar.  If your dog spends a lot of time in the water/snow, you might want to consider the same type of flat collar in a rubberized material to prevent having a wet collar sitting on your dog for hours on end (hello "hot spots"). Rubberized collars don't usually hold a scent and are easy to keep clean and dry but they don't come in nearly as many bright vibrant colours and patterns.

Let's move on to a few of the other types of collars that are available in the collar aisle. No matter how cruel or unusual they seem to be,  punishment collars remain very popular in the marketplace.  When I refer to punishment collars, I am referring to choke chains, slip collars and prong collars. All of these types of collars have been developed for the sole purpose of inflicting pain or discomfort to the animal when the handler or dog tightens the leash.  Many people use them to prevent a dog from pulling on their leash or for increased control over the animal when they need it (i.e. when passing another dog on a walk and your dog gets too stimulated). Keep in mind that whatever your dog is looking at when the pain is experienced is exactly what they will associate with this pain and discomfort. If your dog pulls, jumps or lunges at people or dogs passing by them when they are out for a walk and they are wearing a punishment collar, the dog will start to associate passing people and dogs with pain and it is highly likely that their negative reaction to these stimuli will intensify.  The same holds true when talking about shock (aka static) collars and spray collars.  Whether it's controlled automatically or manually, the owner must understand that these are training collars NOT control collars and they should only be used by a trained professional and only after all other training options to correct the behaviour have been exhausted. Even then, in my 20 years of training dogs, I have yet to find it necessary to use a static/shock collar on an animal. When comparing static vs spray collars keep in mind that static collars insert pain/discomfort into the training equation and spray collars insert distraction.

If you have chosen a choke chain/collar before or are considering one now because you're afraid that Fluffy might slip out of his collar while on a walk or heading into the vet, a viable option to consider is a Martingale collar. The Martingale is a collar that tightens with additional pulling BUT will only tighten slightly before it stops and will not choke the dog.  Understand that any type of collar that tightens should not be worn on a dog at all times as a basic house collar, and should be removed promptly after training/walking periods with your pet.  If you're looking for additional control, try a head halter (i.e. Gentle Leader). Your dog might not be a fan at first because it feels funny on their muzzle but it does lend to increased control of strong dogs who pull or become reactive while on leash. Keep in mind that even the head halter is a training device and should never be used in a situation when the dog would be at a running pace when they reach the end of the leash and the head halter engages.

 

LEASHES come in as many styles, colours, materials and sizes as collars do but to make things simple a basic 5 - 6 foot nylon leash is usually all that's required. Try to avoid leashes that are rounded like rope or those that have any type of "give" or "bounce" type of elasticity as these lend to having much less leash control.  We could delve into leashes at the same rate as the collar details above and I would be happy to do so in a future blog entry if people are interested but in this case I am going to take a few moments to break down the uses for the traditional flat leash vs. the retractable leash (aka Flexi leashes). Both the traditional flat leash and the retractable leash have their time and place when it comes to taking Fluffy for a stroll but owners should be aware of the so-called ups and downs of each.  Generally speaking, most dog trainers cringe at the thought of someone arriving to a group class using a retractable leash and when this happens I always swap out the retractable for a standard flat leash for the duration of the class.  I do this for a couple of reasons but mainly for the safety of my four-legged students.  Retractable leashes come in a variety of lengths from 6 - 26 feet and with either a flat tape style or a thin nylon cord serving as the lead itself.  Due to the convenience of having a leash that automatically winds itself, owners are usually much less concerned with what Fluffy is doing at the end of the leash and where exactly Fluffy is in relation to them.  This causes me a great deal of anxiety and stress because the dogs are only a moment away from a negative dog/dog incident or a leash getting wrapped around a leg and then pulled tightly resulting in rope burns or other injuries such as torn ligaments.  When using a retractable leash on a sidewalk or near traffic there are a lot of things that can happen very quickly when your dog is 20 feet away from you leaves little time to correct the situation. The dog is only a fraction of a second from darting out into traffic or encountering a less friendly off leash dog. Remember, a 20 foot leash (radius) means that the dog actually has 40 feet of space (diameter) so the dog can have up to 40 feet of running momentum before coming to a screeching halt whipping the head and neck around so quickly that injury may occur.  The other thing that owners should know about retractable leashes is that despite being convenient and comfy for the handler when people use this type of leash, their dog will not learn to walk nicely on a loose leash.  The reason being is the physics that allow the leash to operate properly depends on the leash always being tight.  In order for a dog to learn to walk nicely with a loose leash, there has to first be a loose leash and retractable leashes do not allow for this to happen.  There are, however, certain times when retractable leashes are very appropriate as well as convenient. Once your dog has learned how to walk nicely on a flat leash, you can introduce the retractable leash when walking in open areas that are also away from both traffic lots of people (i.e. fields, rest stops, trails, private yard, etc.) to allow Fluffy more space to roam and stretch his legs while sniffing anything and everything. I specifically say "open areas" because retractable leashes can be very dangerous when walking through wooded areas.

FENCES also come in different styles, colours, materials and heights and there are many different options available depending on the look that you want to achieve and the budget. In this particular blog entry I will focus on the single most frequently asked question about fences.... "What do you think of electric/underground fences?".  Here's what I say to people who ask this very question... be careful!  There are a couple of things to be aware of before heading out to buy your underground fence. First of all, it's underground. There is no physical barrier preventing your dog from leaving the area OR from allowing other dogs, cats and critters into your yard.  Despite being a valued furry family member, dogs are still dogs and they have species specific instincts that may be more instilled in them than the training provided when you introduced the underground fence. This is to say that if your dog is in hot pursuit of the squirrel or deer that was darting through your yard, the "beep" or even the shock from the fence collar might not be enough in that very moment to deter Fluffy from crossing that invisible line. So Fluffy crosses the line, chases the deer and loses the race. Now Fluffy wants to come home but as he nears his own yard, he hears the "beep" of the collar and won't cross that line to come back home. This is a definite possibility.

Underground fences also require training and a lot of it.  It's not quite as "one and done" as the instruction manual makes it out to be.  It's not just putting flags in the ground and walking the perimeter once or twice. The implementation of the underground fence system requires frequent training of the desired behaviour (staying in the yard) and the demonstration to Fluffy of what will happen to him when he ignores the "beep"  (the shock via a static collar). Of course, you can combine this with what you read earlier in how dogs associate what they are looking at that very moment with the pain that they are receiving.  Maybe Fluffy always runs out to see your neighbour walking by but it won't be long before Fluffy is no longer so friendly at the sight of your neighbour when he experiences pain every time he sees them.  These fences can also create great complacency for the owners who treat an underground fence in the same manner as a physical fence.  Putting your dog out for the afternoon to lounge in the treed yard for a couple of hours while unsupervised is simply not as safe and secure with an invisible line versus a physical fence. 

And there you have it.... the nutshell on collars, leashes and fences... Oh MY!

I would love to hear your thoughts on our blog entries along with any suggestions for future topics. Take a moment to share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. Until next time... TAIL WAGS!

Posted on June 6, 2017 .

Mother and Father's Days

Well today is Mother's Day and next month Father's Day will roll around so it brings me to thinking about some of my experiences with new "pet parents".  As a dog trainer, what I hear most often from new pet parents is how having a puppy is so much like having a new baby in the house. I don't have a little human myself but I have to believe that these folks know what they're talking about after having welcomed both an infant and a puppy into their homes and over and over again I am told how similar the experiences are for them.  I cannot disagree with them as they describe to me what they are going through.

The phrase I hear most often from pet parents who bring home a new puppy months or years after having lost their previous pet of 10+years is this, "This dog is nothing like my old dog. My last dog was perfect. He/She came everywhere with me. They never left the yard. They listened to and did everything I told them." Etc. Etc.Etc.  My response? There are a couple of things to consider in this situation:

  1. The previous dog was likely 10 - 15 years old when they passed away and crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. Their pace was slow, they loved to sleep and they were predictable.
  2. The pet parent is now 10 - 15 years older now than they were the last time they had a puppy. They have aged and they too have slowed down.
  3. The pet parent's focus is likely torn is many new directions than it was 10 - 15 years ago.  Maybe last time there was a puppy in the house, it was just you or you and a significant other. Now you have a career, human kids, soccer/hockey games and a bustling minivan that's always on the go.

The pet parent grew older right along with their last puppy. The pet parent had more energy and patience 15 years ago. Time has a tendency to allow us to forget the initial puppy years that we had with this first dog. Those memories of being kept awake at night, having your shoes shredded into a million pieces and cleaning pee and poop from your carpet have been replaced with memories of long walks together at a slower pace, "Fluffy" lying peacefully at your feet as you flip through a magazine or strolling over calmly to greet a visitor to your home. A decade or two will do that to people.  When Fluffy passes on, there is a hole in our heart and a vast emptiness in our home. Dog dishes that are no longer needed are placed in the cupboard, long abandoned dog toys have been removed from the home and pictures of a well behaved Fluffy adorn the walls. Fluffy was "perfect".  But the emptiness and the yearning to have that hole filled by a four legged best friend persists so we get a new puppy!  What an exciting time for a family!!!   But wait.... you have to be ready for what's about to happen!

Along with their irresistible cuteness, puppies bring lots of energy, enthusiasm and behaviours that come from simply not knowing better.  They aren't trying to be "bad", they are just babies. They don't come home at 8 weeks of age knowing how to entertain themselves or sleep through the night. They may cry or whine throughout the night keeping all family members awake for hours. They want you to play with them all of the time. They might chew or break your most valuable items in the car or home. They might pee, poop or vomit on your hardwood floor, carpet or furniture. They will likely jump up on you or your guests with their wet or muddy little paws. I could go on and on and on.... but it is SO worth it!!

They need boundaries, structure and routine that the pet parent needs to establish and follow. They need to learn and do new things with the support an encouragement of their humans. They need their human to know how to properly care for them, nurture them and teach them to be great dogs.  And they need for their humans to understand and remember that despite growing at an alarming rate, they have only been consuming oxygen for as little as 56 days. As their little fluffy bodies grow so quickly, we assume that by the time they are 6 months old, they should "know better"... wait... at six months old, they have only been breathing for about 180 days. When we can keep that it mind and know in our hearts (as we look at their little faces after they chewed our new eye glasses that cost $400) that there was no intentional malice behind the act, then we can better understand that they still need our guidance and direction.

As an example, here's "Winnie's Story".  Winnie came to me back in 1999 as an 8 month old rescue from the SPCA. She was the most lovely black lab mix who had been placed in a crate at 8 weeks old and never let out. Well she was out at least once because her tail had been broken from being slammed in a door but aside from that, her previous owner just moved the crate outside and she would eliminate through the bottom of the crate. It was a sad case of animal abused but someone had saved her and brought her to the SPCA.  When I laid eyes on her, I knew she would be the perfect friend for our older dog, Calvin!  I have always said that Winnie was hand made by the devil himself and sent straight to me. I love dogs but Winnie was almost unbearable. I couldn't possibly begin to fully explain the damage that Winnie did to our home.  She chewed the vinyl flooring, took all of the carpet up from the stairs, escaped out of her crate despite our most creative efforts to contain her, chewed through the wainscotting to the crawlspace, ate the couch - nope, not the cushions, the pieces of lumber that constructed the frame of the couch, kitchen cupboards, etc etc etc. When I got home from work, she would jump at the door to greet me even before I entered. She would jump and jump and jump on the other side of the door for 5 - 25 minutes in an excited frenzy. Through it all, I just kept asking myself, "When is she going to grow up? Calvin is so laid back and chill. When will she get to be like Calvin?". Short answer... Winnie was not Calvin. I wanted her to "grow up" and be a dog, learn her manners and be well behaved. Just be a good, mature adult dog! I didn't know it at the time but I was wishing away her puppyhood. She wasn't Calvin. Wasn't going to ever be Calvin. She was Winnie!

Winnie passed away on December 19 2012, the day after my own Mother's funeral, at the age of 14 years. In those fourteen years, she managed to find her groove, her job and her manners. I learned so much from Winnie. I never gave up on her although admittedly tempted at times. I learned that Winnie was the product of the effort that I put into our relationship.  Most of all, I learned to never ever wish away puppyhood because I would give anything for her to be in my house chewing apart my couch today.

Whether you have a puppy, an adolescent youngster, an adult furkid or a senior dog living their golden years in your home - enjoy them! Enjoy every minute that you have with them. Learn to take the time to enjoy their unique personalities at every single stage of their lives. Their puppy antics, their new found love of exploring, their enthusiasm, their loyalty, their playfulness and their appreciation for whatever is happening in that very moment are all things to be celebrated. Don't be caught wishing any of it away.  We could very well learn something from our furry kids about slowing down and soaking in the moments of life that we all too often wish away only to be sought later with the regret that we missed them the first time around.

When adding to your fur family take the time to consider what you're looking for.... it might be a puppy or it might be an adult who already has the basics of life figured out with some learning left to do or it might very well be a senior furkid who wants to show you how to slow down and soak it all in.

Until next time, keep those tails waggin' and those tongues flappin',

Posted on May 14, 2017 .

Keeping It Real

Maintaining perspective and keeping expectations realistic when it comes to our family pets is one of the toughest challenges facing dog owners today.  In a society that has come to expect everything NOW it's often difficult to keep things "real".

Posted on April 22, 2017 .