Annika’s Story: Training Wolves and Mongolian Street Dogs

When I was first given the opportunity to work overseas with one of the world’s best animal trainers, I was in complete and utter shock! But seriously, who gets to train wolves for a movie in China? Little did I know, this gift would be the biggest challenge of my life both professionally and emotionally.

Moving to a foreign country alone, to meet a perfect stranger and devote months of your life away from everything comfortable and secure was scary enough! But meeting and learning to work with a pack of wolves was a whole other story.

It all started in Beijing, where our team of ten Canadian/American trainers and assistants were based with ten adult wolves and four 4 month old wolf puppies. My job was simply to expose them to new people and experiences, clean their enclosure and love the heck out of them (that part was easy). The 40 degree Beijing heat was my biggest challenge at the time. And then the real fun began: training! I thought with my dog training experience and knowledge I brought something to the table in this department, because I certainly didn’t bring any handy, power tool skills with me! The only thing that I can confidently say that I was good at was… oh wait- nothing! The wolves are so quick, and smart, and pick up on everything; every insecurity, hesitance, fear, concern, anticipation- everything! So training them was beyond a learning experience, it was a life experience. They taught me what self-awareness is all about. They taught me to always be one step ahead in my training but also in my thoughts and actions. The list goes on and on, and my experience working with them, as well as simply interacting with them, will forever impact who I am and the life that I lead.

As time went on the challenges with training and the goals we set for ourselves became more and more difficult. Situations were never as they seemed they would be, so the wolves as well as the trainers constantly had to remain adaptable. They displayed such resilience and strength as a pack, and what we asked of them simply became more and more challenging.

In training we used positive reinforcement methods only. Can you imagine trying Cesar style pinning a wolf if it doesn’t come when called!? They were rewarded with chunks of fresh cut (by yours truly) local raw beef or chicken, depending on their personal preference. Cloudy, the pack leader for quite some time preferred cooked chicken breast. Such a lucky boy J. Most of the behaviors they had to do were a variety of A to B recalls, with trainers at each end calling them as well as standing on a mark. The occasional specific wolf would have to accomplish a more difficult behavior like carry something in its mouth or pretend to be dead (all trained by the renowned wolf trainer Andrew Simpson).  The food was definitely a strong motivator for these carnivores. However, as days, weeks and months passed it became ever so clear to me that it was the relationship itself between trainer and wolf that solidified our successes, not the food. On difficult shoot days when the elements of nature were against us (75km Mongolian winds, blizzards during night shooting, 40 degree heat waves) the wolves pushed through their frustration or discomfort all in the name of the relationship they shared with their trainer. It was the most beautiful, moving training I have ever witnessed. It also solidified the training belief that if you think an animal won’t do something, then they won’t. If you have faith in them, they share that faith in you- and that is when you have success in training, with any animal.

We didn’t just have wolves with us on this film in China. We had 6 Mongolian dogs that had previously been tied to buildings or trees, or simply wandered the streets up until we found them for the use of the film. One of the Hollywood trainers that I had the sheer privilege to observe and assist has mastered animal training. Her expertise, creativity and handling skills were like nothing I have ever seen. She worked these 6 adult dogs through reactivity, dog to dog aggression, fear aggression, over arousal, and simply poor “pet life” skills in a matter of just a few months. And yes, the food reinforcement was an enormous contributor to this process. However, again, I was captivated by how much of the behavior changes were based on trust alone, and time put into relationship building. The dogs didn’t only do things for us on set just because they might get a piece of meat for it after the director announces “cut”; they did it because she asked them to, and so they wanted to, as they had such trust and a strong, positive relationship with her. No fear of punishment or pain. Along with the hours spent building trust with handling, the introduction of equipment such as collars and leashes, proper interactions with other animals, teaching a variety of behaviors to be used in the film, she also made a conscious effort to spoil them rotten with attention and extra exercise when deserved! This was such a beautiful example of a professional trainer recognizing what an animal sees as reinforcement and integrating that into the animal’s life in order to develop mutual respect and appreciation.

The major lesson I learned that I intend to bring with me as I continue on this adventure as an animal trainer is not to rely solely on food/treats as an animal’s reward or motivation to work with me. It is just as important to show them that I respect their needs/desires and to devote more time in joining them in doing the things they love. I strongly believe that putting the time into developing a connection through trust is the key to a successful relationship with your pet!




Megan’s Musings – A change in direction

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing the stop of our Volunteer Education Program that was launched almost 2 years ago.  This program offers all of our classes and education events at no charge to volunteers, and we also provided a full scholarship for our Canine Behaviour & Handling Certificate. There have been a variety of events that have led up to this and I feel that a full explanation as to why we are ending it is needed.

Like everyone in this industry, I was born with a love for animals. Those of us who work with animals seem to have always had a different understanding and level of compassion towards them, and we are thrilled when our life path leads us towards having the privelege of being able to help them. I always feel so lucky for what I do. The schedule is insane and the workload too much, but I love what I do and wish I had extra hours to do more. I take what I do very seriously, and put education at the top of my list of importance in what I do. I feel like I need to stand up and ensure the emotional and behavioural well-being of all of the animals I interact with. And, I am lucky enough to have an amazing team of people behind me who all feel the same way.

I started in the shelter world and it was my first introduction into training work and rescue. Animal rescue is close to my heart and is a large focus with dogma. We have made it our mandate and mission to assist rescue, and always will. I have loved to watch the growth of animal rescue in Calgary. We have an amazing group of rescues and Calgarians truly support them. I am so proud to be part of it all in this city. This is what makes this decision and change in direction so hard. It feels like I am giving up. However, I can no longer put this strain on myself, business and team.

There are amazing people in animal rescue. I am always in awe of the commitment and work that they do. We understand they are not dog trainers, and like so many other trainers in the city, we wanted to help by sharing our knowledge. As many already know, dogma is strict with who we become affiliated and work with. If reward-based methods are not used, and if you use physical corrections of any kind, we will not promote or support your business. This goes way beyond the simple argument of using food in training. It is how we choose to handle and interact with the animals. It is how we take a stand for these animals that do not have voice for themselves. (You can read my other posts on regulation, training and the divide to learn more about our stance on this).

I support rescue and their ultimate goal. We understand how overwhelming that line of work can be. However, we can no longer participate with groups that are not taking absolute care in how their animals are being handled. We cannot participate with a rescue these obtains these animals and then puts them into the hands of people who are going to work with them through fear and intimidation as tools. These dogs have already gone through enough.

My decision to end this program really began at Pet Expo. I watched groups that had made the right choice to get dogs with concerns into our classes, bring the same dog to this busy event and proceed to pin it to the ground to stop it from reacting, while it trembled in fear. This animal is terrified and should not be there, and we think we have the right to physically correct and terrify this animal even more?? We then tried to host an adoptathon at our annual Mutt Show that is meant to showcase rescue dogs and what wonderful pets they can be. We requested that fearful dogs not be brought as it is too stressful and unfair. There were a few concerning situations, but all the people were so gracious for the help and quickly changed how the dogs were being handled. Throughout the day we witnessed a poor dog that was so scared it was screaming for help, and was being continually corrected through harsh collar corrections. This dog was scared, stressed and completely overwhelmed by the busyness of the event. We had trainers at the event to help and the group was approached many times with alternate ways to handle the dog. Finally, the animal was corrected so hard that all four paws came off the ground that we had to interrupt, and the group was very angry that we did. This was at our own event, we were protecting their animal, and I began to think that this was hopeless for us to try to change.

These dogs are rescued from a variety of situations and many of them have never even been in a city. It is a terrifying experience for a human from a small town to come into the big city, so I cannot imagine what it is like for a dog. The dog is thrown in an environment they do not know, surrounded by scary things and we chose to teach them by attaching a leash and collar to them and correcting them for making the wrong choice? When problems develop, we send them to trainers who are going to hurt them when they are scared? I cannot even being to imagine the kind of stress these poor dogs are under.  It breaks our hearts everytime we see or even hear about what is being done to these dogs.

How are we becoming the bad guys when we are the ones concerned for how your animals are being handled? You are responsible for them. I have an amazing team who love people as much as they love the dogs. We do not attack, and we try so many ways to help these people understand why it is unfair to treat any dog this way. It surprises, discourages and confuses me that we get such fight back on this from groups that pride themselves for saving animals, and as a whole are truly amazing and so committed to this cause. It is not just about how many you get in the door though, but what you do with them when you get them. A friend of mine wrote a brilliant article on this (

I have been torn apart while coming to this decision. We could do so much to change the lives of so many animals, if we all began to stand up more for how they are being treated. It is not in my nature to be quiet and allow this stuff to happen, which is why I am writing this post. Yes, it will likely make people angry and we are prepared for any negativity that is thrown our way. However, the emotional strain at watching dogs continally being treated through harsh methods becomes too much. I am now going to move dogma towards being able to focus our energy where we will see it grow in a more positive way.

“People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong … Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?” –  Thich Nhat Hanh

This is the next chapter and direction for dogma with animal rescue. If we have a specific program set up with us and promote only reward-based training and are against aversive handling, we will continue. Otherwise, we are still here to help, if you should choose to take a stand for your animals with how they are handled/trained.

Please do not try to register a foster in classes if you are not going to commit to how they are handled (this includes providing the required support to the foster home).  We will no longer be victim to having dogs brought to us that have been handled incorrectly, and then all the blame be put on us when you will not follow through on the training. We will not be put into one more situation where we are brought a terrified but highly aggressive dog, our suggestions are not followed in the least, and then we are subjected to ridicule and negativity amongst our peers. We cannot watch another fearful dog be taken to trainer who will punish them and allow them to live a life of terror. We can no longer worry that if we cannot get the dog into class at no charge, and fill the spot with a committed dog owner instead, that they will be instead be put in a class with such harsh handling, that they will be terrified and stressed the whole time. We can no longer take on this responsibility for groups that will not take a stand for the handling and training of the dogs in their care. We are going to drop the heartache caused by this experience and focus on where we can really help. We were able to bring great change to ARF and I am excited for our involvement with pause4change. I look forward to seeing what changes we can make, and to be involved with a group of people that are so committed and share our views on how these dogs deserve to be treated.

Megan’s Musings – Regulations

If you have not seen this already, last week there was an article in the Calgary Herald about an employee at a dog care facility that is being charged with animal abuse. You can read the article here.  We have received many calls and emails, and have spoken to many people who were quite concerned about this. And we should be. This post is not meant to be an attack on this facility, but rather a way to express my concerns about this industry as a whole. I feel like the business handled the situation well; which is proven by the fact that it was them that reported it. Kudos to them for this and how they are handling and addressing the situation now. However, I have been working at creating standards and educating the public on how our dogs should be handled. I wanted to lead by example and have a wonderful team who believes in what we do. We have quietly been leading the way, but this incident made me realize that we can no longer just do this. We need to get this information out there and need to take a stronger position with loud voices.

We take on a huge responsibility by bringing animals into our care and owners put all of their trust that we are doing what  is right for their dogs. When I first was starting dog training I was looking for a place to take Guinniss to help work him through some of his fears and provide him with proper socialization. There were not many options in the city at this time, and I was horrified by what I found. I realized there was a need in the city and the idea of dogma was formed. A daycare/training facility with a solid understanding in dog behaviour and operated in a way to ensure the overall emotional and physical well being of the dogs was being met. Since then, I have seen some good improvements in that dog owners are becoming more aware of what they should be looking for in a dog care facility. However, there has also been a large growth of facilities in the city, and for the most part, there are a lot of problems. This is when situations such as the one with this employee happen, and I want to see us change things before more horrible incidents like this occur. Unfortunately, it always seems like something really bad has to happen for us to make change. Perhaps we can avoid this by demanding more on the businesses that care for our dogs.

There are a few key standards that I think should be mandatory for all dog care facilities. It will take some time for regulations to come into law, but we have the power to make these changes on our own. I have outlined each of these below:


What education do the owner(s) or manager(s) have? At dogma each facility is managed by a DCBCE (dogma certified behaviour consultant & educator). I have my CPDT-KSA (Certified Pet Dog Trainer, Knowledge and Skills Assessed)and CBCC-KA (Certified Behavior Consultant Canine, Knowledge Assessed). These are the only internationally recognized certifications you can receive in dog training, and our Head Trainer, Drae Fitchett, has these designations as well. I just cannot understand how a dog care facility can be operated by someone who does not have an education in dog behaviour. And by education, I mean one based on modern science. I am not talking about a few seminars or the fact that you have taken your dog to some training classes. But one that has measured and tested your knowledge in dogs. If you do not have this, you have the responsibility to do this. dogma offers a Certificate in Canine Behaviour and Handling for this very reason, and I have to admit, I am disappointed that we have not seen more workers in the dog industry who have enrolled.

It is also the business owner’s responsibility to ensure that their team members have sufficient education in dog behaviour before they are left to supervise dogs on their own. dogma has an intense training program for our team. This involves hands on training, reading materials, videos, attendance at seminars, dog training classes and even specific theory days of our dog training apprenticeship program. All of this is done on their own time, but each member is happy to do this because they have a passion for dogs and view this as a perk for their job, not a chore.  They want to have a solid knowledge in behaviour to ensure they can offer the best possible care for all of the dogs they supervise.

Do we think with better education in behaviour this recent incident could have been prevented?

Facility Design

How much space do the dogs have? How are the groups organized? How many dogs in a group? And how are they supervised? These are all key questions that require the correct answers. At dogma, we group by 10-12 dogs at a maximum/group. We are strict with these numbers and have a maximum capacity of dogs we can take per day. We design the group size to fit the appropriate number of dogs based on their size. Even that is a large number of dogs. Any more and we are compromising the safety of the dogs. The dogs are segregated based on size and play style. Our knowledge in behaviour allows us to do this effectively, and every dog is assessed before coming into the facility only by qualified team members who are certified dog trainers. Each group is supervised at all times by one of our team members who have completed the minimum requirement of our training program, which proves they have gained and demonstrated the knowledge and handling skills to do so.

Many facilities group all sizes and way too many dogs. This creates stress, which leads to behaviour concerns. And you cannot properly supervise the dogs, nor can you provide adequate one-on-one time to ensure each dog is happy. By grouping dogs this way, you are risking the dogs. I know of facilities who have had small dogs seriously injured, and even killed by large dogs in the city. The dogs need to be split based on size. Too many dogs is far too stressful for them and fights will happen. Be aware of your dog that is extremely tired at the end of day – stress is hard.

Dogs need structured play with the right dogs. They also need quiet time. We should be providing them with naps. At dogma, we provide two nap times during the day. This ensures that the dogs have time to rest and not become too over-stimulated. Arousal in dogs and too much of it creates behaviour problems. Think of young children who become over-tired. They become cranky and emotional – this is the same for our dogs.


What do the dogs wear at the facility? What tools are used to manage the dogs? At dogma, we have made the decision to have all dogs on a quick release collar. Ideally, we would like it if they wore nothing, but have made this decision as a choice in safety so that the dogs can be held, if needed. Dogs can get caught on each other’s collars, so a quick release allows us to easily unclip the collar if this happens. There are absolutely NO chains. These are extremely dangerous and should never be on dogs in play.

At dogma, all team members must have spray bottles and shaker cans on them. These are safety tools and we also keep air horns at the facilities. We are trained to prevent fights from happening, but unfortunately, they can happen. If they do, all team members have been well trained in how to safely break up a dog fight. These tools allow this and are only ever used if a conflict occurs.

Handling of the Dogs

How are the dogs handled? How do the staff manage the behaviour? Are the dogs corrected? How do they treat dogs who are fearful? How do they train the dogs? At dogma, we take the same approach as we do with our training. We do not correct wrong behaviour, but take the time to teach the dogs what is expected of them and reward for good behaviour. I get so tired of arguing this point. We should never physically correct a dog. The risks have been proven and the emotional damage to dogs is real. It creates stress in them and puts the safety of everyone involved at risk. It is also frustrating for us to always be focused on the negative and it prevents us from creating  a positive bond with the dogs. Plain and simple: it is dangerous. I strongly feel that  this recent incident brings this forward as a serious concern. I know facilities are correcting dogs. Yes, this was an extreme case. But we need to learn how to better handle our dogs. If corrections are not used, this employee’s behaviour and handling of the dogs would have been caught early. Physical corrections of any kind is immediate firing at dogma. That is how serious we take this.

We teach structure and rules, but we know that it is our responsibility to manage the dogs’ behaviour. We show them what is expected and teach them it is rewarding to do so. So, in turn, they are happy! I could go on with this point for a long time. However, the dogs in our care prove our point. They are happy to be there. They receive affection all day and we focus on each dog’s needs. If they are fearful, yes we do provide them with attention and teach them it is a safe and happy place for them. We will never correct them, because we are educated in dog behaviour and know how to teach them. If anyone tries to convince you otherwise and explain why corrections are needed, do not put your dog in their care.


I know this is going to make some people angry. But, if you read this and feel defensive, please take this as a sign that changes are required. I am not writing this to make people happy, but to be the voice of our dogs.

I know that we do not to everything perfectly, and I am always trying to grow dogma. We are constantly learning and making changes. If an incident occurs, we look at how it could have been prevented and what we can do better. We need to work together as businesses to create these standards and provide the best care possible. If you agree, please contact me at and let’s discuss what we can do to make these regulations happen. If you do not, but have questions, I am happy to open up discussions and explain any of the above information.

“We must become the change we want to see in the world.” ~Gandhi



Summertime and Our Dogs

The summer months are a wonderful time to get out and spend time with our dogs. However, life in the sun is not always easy for our four-legged companions. Just like humans, our pets can dehydrate, overheat, sunburn and suffer from insect bites. By following the below precautions, you can keep your pets healthy and happy while enjoying the summer.

Remember to allow lots of water and shade when walking/running with your dog in the heat!

• Never leave your dog in the vehicle in warm weather. This can cause hyperthermia, which can be fatal. Even with your windows open, your vehicle can quickly heat up. Parking in the shade can be a risk as well as the sun shifts throughout the day.
• Exercise your dog in the cooler temperatures in the early morning or later evening. Do not run your dog or limit exercise in hot/humid weather. Do not exercise them after a meal.
• Always carry a large container of water when travelling with your dog.
• Do not let your dog stand on asphalt in hot weather and keep walks during these times to a minimum. A dog’s body can heat up easily and their paw pads can burn.
• Take your dog to the vet for an early summer check up. Test for heartworm and get some flea/tick treatment for your dog, if you have not already.
• Avoid areas that have been sprayed with insecticides or other chemicals.
• Watch for antifreeze or other automotive fluids leaking from vehicles. Small amounts of these can prove to be fatal to your dog.
• Older, overweight and snub-nosed dogs (bulldogs, boston terriers, pugs, lhasa apsos, shih tzus, etc) are particularly sensitive to the heat. They should be kept in air-conditioned and cooler locations as much as possible. This also applies for dogs with lung/heart diseases.
• Good grooming can prevent summer skin problems, especially for dogs with heavy coats. Shaving the hair to a one-inch length helps to prevent overheating. Never shave a dog’s coat down to the skin as this allows the dog no protection against the sun.
• Do not apply any sunscreen or insect repellent product to your pet that is not labeled specifically for use on animals. Ingestion of sunscreen products can result in drooling, diarrhea, excessive thirst and lethargy. The misuse of insect repellent that contains DEET can lead to neurological problems.
• Signs of overheating in pets include excessive panting and drooling and mild weakness, along with an elevated body temperature. If you see any signs of these seek medical attention for your dog immediately.

By following some simple guidelines to ensure your dog is safe this summer, you will be sure to enjoy many great days with your dog. Enjoy the weather and keep your dog cool by fun activities such as a kiddy-pool in the backyard. Fill this with cool water and put a large piece of ice in the middle. Play in the sprinkler with them, or for those dogs who enjoy it, spray them down with the hose.

Success Stories: Update – Sarah & Aiden

We received an update from Sarah on a hugely successful weekend for her and Aiden! If you have not already, you can read about her and Aiden here.

Aiden posing beautifully with all his ribbons!

Aiden and I had so much fun at the Canadian National Belgian Shepherd Dog Show! Aiden earned his first leg for Rally Novice, with a ‘barely’ qualifying score, but lucky for us it was the High Scoring Belgian in Class so we got a ribbon for that. Then in agility he was amazing! And surpassed my expectations. This was only our third agility trial. We did 3 Novice JWW rounds, qualifying in 2 of them with scores of 100! And a High in Trial! And a High Scoring Belgian in trial! We did 3 Novice Standard courses, Q in 2 with 100 and 95 and another High in Trial. So now we have our first CKC agility novice titles in Standard and Jumpers! It was Aiden’s first time away from home with us….staying in a hotel, etc….He was a very good boy, but I think he missed his ‘doggie sisters’. Many Belgian people commented on how beautifull he is. I didn’t show him in conformation as we were too busy in agility, and hes still not that comfortable with ‘strangers’ touching him….and the specialty judge from Australia was giving them all quite a feeling over!

Success Story – Paul & Gillian with Callie

Callie in her pretty bow!

Hi I’m Callie,

Here’s a brief background on me, I lived outside for the first couple of months of my life and because of the environment I was exposed to, I became timid.  I was rescued by ARF and adopted at 3 months – which is pretty cool since I was afraid to let people near me, pet me or make eye contact.  My new family took me to puppy classes and training at Dogma.  At first I was hesitant to let the trainers pet me, but they approached me slowly (and with tasty treats) and it didn’t take me too long to figure out that they were kind.  Then came the first playtime….the other dogs wanted to play and it scared the daylights out of me, so the thoughtful trainers put me in to play with the smaller dogs so I could feel more confident.  I’m very grateful that they considered how scared I was and allowed me to grow and blossom at my own rate.   And grow and blossom I did….turns out, people are pretty darn nice, and it is so much fun to play with other dogs of all shapes and sizes…who knew??  I feel confident now and know that I’m a good dog.  I no longer tuck my tail and run for protection, I approach people and things confidently, and I get so excited as we take the corner into the Dogma parking lot!


A side note from Callie’s parents: Callie now is a completely different dog from Callie at 3 months.  For anyone considering a pet, don’t turn away from a timid dog.  Watching her personality develop has been amazing, she’s fun, adventurous, and quite frankly a total goof.  It is always tempting to go after the playful puppy that’s bouncing around and having fun, but don’t disregard the quiet one in the corner … they just need some help bringing out their personalities, and it doesn’t take long!  Kudos to the fantastic trainers at Dogma for understanding dogs so well, for customizing their approach to each individual dog, and giving us dog owners the knowledge we need.

A note from Megan: the entire team has spoken frequently about how far Callie has come in her training and overall confidence. It is all because of the dedication her parents have had to keep her coming to classes and learn how to help her. She is a lucky girl and we are lucky to have such a wonderful family to teach and learn from in our classes. Thank you!

The dogma of Digging

Spring is upon us and with the disappearance of winter comes the emergence of long buried smells, insects, and new growth. Most dogs love this time of year for exploring, sniffing, and tearing up the earth. Digging can be a frustrating behaviour for dog owners and one that many dogs love to do! Much like chewing, it is a natural behaviour for dogs and a great stress relief for them. There are many reasons why a dog may dig – it could be because they are bored or feeling anxiety, trying to escape, or even to cool down.

We can address this problem a variety of ways, through deterrents or redirecting them to more appropriate behaviours. When teaching the dog not to dig, they must be supervised. If you want your dog outside and not supervised, you will need to have a kennel or run that has a concrete/asphalt floor, or some type of material that they cannot dig and cause damage to.

Proud of her digging :)

In most cases, the dog digs because he is bored. Try to ensure your dog has a variety of toys to play with and ensure he is getting adequate physical and mental exercise. Remember that backyard playtime is not appropriate exercise – dogs need to be walked! If your dog has been digging, avoid any type of physical punishment (such as hitting with a rolled up newspaper, hard yanking on the collar or verbal attacks) as these can often cause additional problems.

If your dog has a favorite digging spot, such as your flower beds, you can make the area less fun for the dog. You can try burying chicken wire just below the surface, or burying their own feces in the holes as some dogs do not like digging and finding that! If possible, you can also block access to any areas they are more prone to dig at.

One of the best options for a chronic digger is to provide a spot where your dog is allowed to dig. Create an area with soft soil, sand, or a mix of it. Make sure this area is defined and marked to separate it from the rest of the yard. Bury either your dog’s toys or some food, just lightly covered to start. You can then begin burying things deeper to keep your dog interested and to continue to dig there. Praise your dog while they are digging in their correct spot and always redirect them to it if they start to dig elsewhere. You need to ensure you are always supervising your dog until they understand where they can and cannot dig. With practice and consistency, soon your spring flowers will be blooming beautifully and your dog will have a great sandbox all his own to enjoy!

The dogma of Manners – Part 1: Jumping

Many dog owners face the challenge of training their dog not to jump on people. It can be frustrating and embarrassing and we often unintentionally reward this behaviour. Whether it is the first time we bring our sweet puppy home and give them cuddles while they jump up on us, or even if we say “No!” and push them down, dogs learn that jumping up works to get our attention. Below are some ideas to help teach your dog appropriate ways to greet people.

  1. When your dog jumps up, you should turn away and ignore them – SAY NOTHING. Deny your dog your attention until it keeps all 4 paws on the floor. Most dogs are rewarded by us for jumping up because we still give them attention – even if it is negative.
  2. Wait for your dog to be standing on all 4 paws, and praise immediately while the dog is not jumping.
  3. If your dog gets too excited and jumps again, just turn away again, and wait for them to stop.
  4. If your dog decides to continue to jump at your back, leave the room. You only need to be out of the room for 30 seconds at a maximum, and there needs to be a door between you and your dog.
  5. Return to your dog.
  6. Continue repeating this exercise until your dog no longer jumps. You can set this exercise up by coming home (entering through the front door) often.
  7. Another option for this exercise is to enforce sit when you come home. Ask your dog to sit and reward with calm verbal praise and touch when they do. This way your dog is working for you and earning your attention.
  8. Practice this often! Have family and friends help you when they come inside your home.

For a dog that is still too excited during the above steps, another option is to enter your house and completely ignore the dog (no eye contact or anything). Initially this may take quite awhile, but as soon as your dog settles and lies down, you can then say hello. We are teaching the dog that they will only get attention when they are calm. Begin with people living in your home, then familiar, then new people coming to the house.

You could also have your dog away from the door (ex: in their kennel, behind a gate) during all of the initial excitement. Teach them to go to this place for big rewards when the doorbell rings. Only take them out when once they are calm and settled. This moves them away from the excitement, and teaches them that they need to be calm in order to be able to greet people. You could also bring them out on leash to greet the guests to further influence their behaviour.

We often make our hello’s and goodbye’s very exciting, so ensure everyone who greets your dog does so in an appropriate and calm manner. Remember this training takes patience but will be a worthwhile process once you have a well-mannered canine greeting your guests!

Megan’s Musings – It’s Not Just the Training

I have been thinking about this concept for awhile. This whole positive vs aversive or treats vs corrections and how it always just points at the dog training industry. I do understand why it has become more of a hot topic within the dog training field, but after some recent conversations, I think we really need to start looking at it as more of how we choose to interact and live with our dogs. Yes, dog trainers are there to help you understand how to make your dog into a good canine companion and help you to learn how to modify unwanted behaviours, but this does not mean that this is the only area where our approach matters.

When I watch a person hang their dog in the air from a collar to get them to sit or give them a leash correction for stepping ahead of them, I have a hard time understanding why someone would choose this approach. I think about if this person would find it acceptable to take such a harsh approach against a child, a family member, a co-worker or even another pet, such as a cat. Why do we find it acceptable to do this to dogs and what are we teaching them about the world?

I understand that dog trainers are the ones that teach people how to interact with their dogs. A good trainer will be certified, take continuing education seriously and have a solid understanding of canine communication. We are responsible for teaching dog owners and to educate them about their dog. But, it is not just our responsibility as every interaction matters. Dog walkers, groomers, vets, rescue groups, pet retail workers and anyone involved with dogs need to also take on this responsibility. How we interact with dogs will determine their success integrating and coexisting in the human world.

For example, if I have my dog that is scared of people and I am working them through that, one scary interaction with a person could really set back their progress. Let’s say I take them to the vet and a worker there does not understand how to approach the dog correctly. Instead, they muzzle the dog and handle it roughly just to get through the exam. This is scary for my dog and my dog will now have reason to be even more fearful of people, and especially people at the vet clinic. Or, I have a social dog who likes to wrestle and play. We go to the off-leash park and they run up to another dog and paw at them. The other owner incorrectly views this as dominance and slams my dog on its side to submit it. The risk is then that my dog becomes fearful around other dogs/people. Or, I rescue a dog from a reserve and bring it into the city. The city is terrifying and full of new, potentially dangerous things that the dog has never been exposed to before. The dog becomes reactive, as it is scared of everything, and it is physically corrected for showing signs of fear. These are just a few examples of many, but all of these situations are detrimental to the dog’s overall well-being and behaviour. Step back and think about each interaction a dog has and what it may be learning.

So, for now, I want us to start thinking about it differently. It is not just about dog training. Every time our dogs interact with people, other dogs, animals and are exposed to new situations they are learning about the world and just responding to that. So all of us need to be responsible for this. Show them patience and understanding, but above all, let’s demonstrate some compassion.

Sharon and Abby


We had recently lost our dog Nicki, who had been a family member for 14 years.  I was heart-broken and not having a dog in our lives was making me miserable and apparently, according to family around me, very cranky.  It was time to get another dog.  During a blizzard I convinced everyone (somehow) we should drive to Petsmart in Beacon Hill to look at the puppies.  As it turned out Oops-A-Daisy had not gotten there due to the storm.  For some reason I decided we should drive to the Petsmart on MacLeod Trail.

We walked in and there must have been about 10 puppies there.   They were all sitting at the front of the cage wagging their tails and jumping – enjoying all the attention they were getting.  Then I spotted one little puppy at the back of the cage – all alone – the saddest little puppy I had ever seen.    And I know without a doubt that Abby had ‘found us and a home’.


Abby was one of ARF’s -31 degree litter and was an insecure, and fearful little puppy.  We brought her home and I was determined to help her in any way that we could and I started phoning around for information on classes, playtimes, advice from any place I could get it. . .Fortunately for Abby I called dogma and spoke to Megan.  We talked about confidence building, fearfulness, the ways that puppies learn, training options , and playclasses.  She was so knowledgeable, and understanding I knew that’s where we needed to go.  She recommended we start with Puppy Playtime.

Our first playtime – yikes – I recall having to carry Abby in and out because she wouldn’t even walk in the door and for the first few minutes I’m sure she wanted to dig a hole in the wall to hide. That didn’t last long though – I guess both of us felt the atmosphere was so warm and welcoming – that she blossomed.  Everyone was so friendly and kind.   As I met other dog owners I soon realized that most of them are ‘dogma regulars’ and as far as I was concerned, that was for good reason.   We then and there became regulars at Puppy Playtime and registered for some classes.   As we moved through the levels (Puppy Class, Puppy Spirit and a Fear and Reactivity class – which gave us useful tools for understanding) Abby’s confidence and mine increased in  heaps and bounds.  The classes were all so positive, and Megan, Drae and the rest of the staff reiterated time and time again to always set these puppies up for success.  That to me was the bottom line.  I couldn’t even venture a guess as to how many questions I asked the staff – everyone was always so patient and would offer suggestions – ‘try this’ or you could ‘try this’.   Abby and I could tell immediately that these were all people who genuinely love dogs – and really what more do you need to know !!  We became so confident we even got involved in an Elvis’ Hound Dog routine (this was a huge thing for Abby – crowds, strange people) which was a great bonding experience for us and we had a blast.  She learned how to weave in that routine – and she proudly displays it every chance she gets!  (sometimes when you aren’t even expecting it !). . ..

 Such a cutie!

Abby is a sweet gentle little dog – gaining confidence all the time – we still have some issues that we need to deal with but intend on working through these in upcoming classes and to continue on with our successes.  As far as playtime is concerned she now has a ‘BFF”- Khali, and will even encourage shy dogs to ‘come out of the corner’..’sometimes trying to drag them out by the scruff of the neck’.. (Drae always laughs at that).. I guess we are now dogma Regulars ourselves.

Note from Megan: Watching Sharon and Abby grow together has been such a rewarding experience. To think of scared little Abby when I first met her, to the brave, happy girl you see now is unbelievable. Sharon is a testament to the outcome when you commit and put the time into training and working with your dog – and that this can be incredibly fun for both! All of us at dogma adore her and Abby and are always thrilled when they take part in another class or event. She has taken the time to understand Abby’s fears, how to work her through them and all while being so amazingly patient and compassionate. This success story means a great deal to our entire team and we are all so proud of them both! We love having them be an integral part of the ‘dogma regulars’! Keep up the good work and we look forward to continued playtimes and dancing in the future :)!!