2008 and 2012 Opening Days
Dogma’s story begins in 2002, shortly after I had bought my first house so that I could get my own dog. I had been searching through various rescue organizations and decided to visit Calgary Animal Services. It was noisy, but there was one young black mixed breed who was sitting quietly and offering his paw through the bars. I looked into his soulful brown eyes and we immediately connected as I held onto his paw. He came out for a visit and was a happy, carefree dog who was thrilled to play fetch and get some attention. We adopted him and waited to pick him up from his neuter surgery. Upon arriving at the clinic, they brought a trembling and nervous dog out to us. I was bothered by this, but assumed he was just nervous at the vet like so many other dogs are. My Irish uncle had just passed away, so I named him Guinniss in his honour. He slept close by my side the first night and I can still remember his breath on my neck and feeling his heart beat on my side.
The next day, I was anxious to take him for his first walk! We only made it a few blocks from the house when there was someone on the other side of the road about 3 blocks down. Guinniss immediately burst into a fit of barking and lunging towards this person. I was terrified and shocked and had no idea what to do. I quickly learned that Guinniss was terrified of the world. He would bark at strangers, animals, noises and anything new and different such as lawn ornaments or even just a plastic bag blowing by in the wind. His response was scary and but I knew it was his cries for help and that he needed my support.
Guinniss always loving his time in nature
Like so many others in this field, I had always wanted to be vet. However, my last year of high school I decided it was not how I wanted to work with animals and I did not know what my other options were. I stayed at my current job and moved into the world of software development. I was working at home as a web designer when I adopted Guinniss and was volunteering as a Dog Training Assistant with the Calgary Humane Society. At the time, options for helping Guinniss were limited and most trainers in Calgary had bought dogs and competed with them, so they could not understand my attachment and desire to help Guinniss or how to help him. They were either classes who used punishment that I knew would destroy Guinniss and make his behaviour even worse. Or, there were classes where all of the dogs were brought in the room together and put behind barriers, which I knew would increase his stress even with their best efforts to manage him. He did enjoy the off leash park, but there were many heavy handed people at the park and dogs who should not be there. It was not a good option with Guinniss’s lack of confidence and I knew it would put him at risk. I sought out facilities to take him as I knew in a safe, controlled environment, I could socialize him and help him overcome his fears. There were only a handful of dog daycares in the city, but they would put 30+ dogs in a group with maybe one staff member who was young and had limited knowledge of dog behaviour. I knew this would worsen Guinniss’s behaviour as well.
I can remember the exact moment I knew what I wanted to create. I was driving down Country Hills Blvd when the concept of dogma began to form in my mind. A structured, dog daycare facility that was operated by certified dog trainers and full of highly-trained individuals in dog behaviour. A facility that would set the standard in daycare through a low staff-dog ratio, a strict maximum capacity, a safe facility design built for the dogs’ needs and programs designed to improve a dog’s behaviour, not create behaviour problems. At that moment, I mapped out everything I would like to see for Guinniss and sought out my path to become highly educated and obtain my CPDT-KA (Certified Pet Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed). It took me about 4 years from that moment to turn that concept into reality. The Chinook dogma location opened its doors in June 2008 and the Killarney location in June 2012. We have set the standard for dog daycare and training in Calgary and are so proud of our local industry and what has developed since.
Guinniss and his fancy wheels!
As for Guinniss, we said goodbye June 2016. He was diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy last year and suffered with limited mobility but had a wheel chair that allowed him to get out and still enjoy nature. Guinniss had a tough road but accomplished so much and was my greatest teacher in this journey. We were inseparable as I learned with him on how to help him overcome his fears and realize the world is a safe and happy place. He learned to love strangers and could go anywhere with me. He was an inspiration to students who came to dogma as he moved around the room at orientation seeking out affection from everyone. We often joke that I may have overdone his handling work as he was obsessed with people showing him love. He overcame so many challenges and health concerns and continued to impress me with each hurdle he would get over. He touched so many lives and inspired me each and every day. He was my champion. Without him, dogma may have never opened. I may not have made it our mission to prevent dogs from being surrendered and to provide a safe and positive environment to help fearful/reactive dogs overcome their concerns. I may not have learned the power of training and socialization and made it our mission to revolutionize and improve the lives of dogs. I may not have realized we needed to put our focus on starting puppies off on the right paw. I may not have sparked the passion and strength to drive change in our industry on how we train and handle our dogs. And I would not have been able to experience the love, joy and inspiration that he gave me each and every day. This year is a milestone year for dogma and I have been putting a lot of thought into all of the dogs (and people) that Guinniss has helped. To date dogma has seen:
Thank you to everyone who has come into my life in my journey with Guinniss and dogma. I have learned so much from each of you. To Guinniss, my old soul and dearest companion. Thank you for teaching me to never give up, that dog training is about listening to each other, to have fun and enjoy each moment and that life is too short so live it to the fullest. I will continue this journey and help each dog and person at dogma with the same level of dedication and heart you have given to me.
RIP Guinniss. You can read his tribute and more on the lessons he taught me here.
And thank you to my team who have been an integral part of dogma’s success. Thank you for showing compassion and dedication to each dog that comes through our door. Together, we have built dogmaU, urbanK9, Reactive urbanK9, PUPS, kinderPUPS and so much more. I look forward to our continued efforts to improve the lives of dogs.