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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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