"One of my favourite books and I love this excerpt from it. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. We have it available for purchase in the store and to borrow from our library. I have been thinking about this whole concept a lot lately, and just how much better life would be for dogs if humans took the time to understand them and look at things from their perspective as well"
Imagine you live on a planet where the dominant species is far more intellectually sophisticated than human beings but often keeps humans as companion animals. They are called the Gorns. They communicate with each other via a complex combination of telepathy, eye movements and high-pitched squeaks, all completely unintelligible and unlearnable by humans, whose brains are prepared for verbal language acquisition only. What humans sometimes learn is the meaning of individual sounds by repeated association with things of relevance to them. The Gorns and humans bond strongly but there are many Gorn rules which humans must try to assimilate with limited information and usually high stakes.
You are one of the lucky humans who lives with the Gorns in their dwelling. Many other humans are chained to small cabanas in the yard. They have become so socially starved that they cannot control their emotions when a Gorn goes near them. Because of this behaviour, the Gorns agree that they could never be House-Humans. They are too excitable.
The dwelling you share with your Gorn family is filled with numerous water-filled porcelain bowls, complete with flushers. Everytime you try to urinate in one, though, any nearby Gorn attacks you. You learn to only use the toilet when there are no Gorns present. Sometimes they come home and stuff your head down the toilet for no apparent reason. You hate this and start sucking up to the Gorns when they come home to try to stave this off, but they view this as increasing evidence of your guilt of some unknown act.
You are also punished for watching videos, reading certain books, talking to other human beings, eating pizza or cheesecake, writing letters. These are all considered behavior problems by the Gorns. To avoid going crazy, once again you wait until they are not around to try doing anything you wish to do. While they are around, you sit quietly, staring straight ahead. Because they witness this good behaviour you are so obviously capable of, they attribute to "spite" they video watching and other transgressions which occur when you are along. Obviously you resent being left alone, they figure. You are walked several times a day and left crossword puzzle book to do (you have never used them because you hate crosswords; the Gorns think you're ignoring them out of revenge).
Worst of all, you like them. They are, after all, often nice to you. But when you smile at them, they punish you, likewise for shaking hands. If you apologize, they punish you again. You have not seen another human since you were a small child. When you see one on the street you are curious, excited and sometimes afraid. You really don't know how to act. So, the Gorn you live with keeps you away from other humans. Your social skills never develop.
Finally, you are brought to "training" school. A large part of the training consists of having your air briefly cut off by a metal chain around your neck. They are sure you understand every squeak and telepathic communication they make because sometimes you seem to get it right. You are guessing and hate the training. You feel pretty stressed out a lot of the time. One day, you see a Gorn approaching with the training collar in hand. You have PMS, a sore neck, and you just don't feel up to the baffling coercion about to ensue. You tell them in your sternest voice to please leave you alone and go away. The Gorns are shocked by this unprovoked aggressive behaviour. They thought you had a good temperament.
They put you in one of their vehicles and take you for a drive. You watch the attractive planetary landscape going by and wonder where you are going. The vehicle stops, you are led into a building filled with the smell of human sweat and excrement. Humans are everywhere in small cages. Some are nervous, some depressed, most watch the goings on from their prisons. Your Gorns, with whom you have lived your entire life, hand you over to strangers who drag you to a small room. You are terrified and yell to your Gorn family to help you. They turn and walk out the door of the building. You are held down and given a lethal injection. It is, after all, the humane way to do it.
We should brush our dog's teeth regularly and it can be a bit frustrating for both us and our dogs to start. You will want to ensure that you take the time to positively introduce this so that it can be stress free for both of you. I recommend that you first start by having your dog comfortable while you handle their mouth (you should do this for overall handling, not just their mouths). To do this, follow the below steps:
Once your dog is comfortable with having their mouths handled, you can begin to introduce brushing their teeth. Use a toothpaste that is specific for dogs – you should never use a human product. The toothpaste is flavoured, so that dogs actually enjoy it. Before putting the toothbrush to your dog’s mouth, let them investigate the brush for a minute, allowing them to lick the toothpaste. At this point all you are trying to do is introduce the toothbrush, the toothpaste and the experience itself to your dog.
At first, start to lightly brush a few front teeth and even a couple back teeth. Do this in short sessions, every day to get the dog comfortable with having the toothbrush in their mouth. Stay calm and praise your dog throughout each session. Ensure you do not push the dog to get fussy or irritated – keep each session as short as your dog needs. It is also beneficial for the dog to understand a sit or down to help keep them settled during the session. Once your dog is comfortable with the toothbrush, follow the below steps to brush their teeth:
Good dental care and healthy teeth go a long way in keeping your dog happy and healthy!
Many of you are likely aware of the divide in the dog training industry. There are two camps: one who is considered 'treat trainers' and focus on rewarding wanted behaviours, and others who follow more of the 'pack theory' and use of physical force with dogs to correct unwanted behaviour. I was planning to write a series of articles that cover all of this in more detail and we have many seminars in the works. However, a recent email I received changed the steps I was going to take. I am still going to work on my previous plan, but I felt like this email was a sign that I needed to do more. First off, I have part of the email below for you to read (parts have been changed so there are no names included).
"We took our dog to a training class when he was about six months old. He was a crazy puppy and alot to handle. We got him at almost 7 weeks old, which they said would cause us some trouble because he was not with his mom long enough. Anyways the first class was over and we were getting ready to leave I was taking off his collar and he was chewing on my hands, the trainer came over and said this was very bad and tried to correct him, he started to go a little crazy then the trainer came over with gloves on and started to push his lips into his teeth while holding him to the ground. Now our dog was really freaking out this went on for an hour before he fully "submitted" by this time he was completely shaking which they said was a good thing. We were told he was never to put his teeth on us and everytime he did we were to put his lips into his teeth. We only had to do that a couple times he never did after that. However now he is terrified of stangers. He will not let anyone pet him he just pees everywhere. His fearfulness is getting worse as well as his nipping with other people. I hope you can help as we love our dog very very much and it breaks my heart."
We receive countless emails and phone calls from dog owners with similar stories. They are all extremely upsetting for us, but this one really bothered me. I like trying to find ways to take my anger and turn into something positive. However, this one just made me feel at a loss at first. This is happening all over and especially in our city. This is not an inexperienced or new trainer. These people are well known and there are many in the city who take this approach. We have always kept these situations internal and are just happy that the owners eventually found their way to us. This is just no longer acceptable. While it is great to have a good reputation for helping dogs like this one, it is becoming increasingly frustrating at the growing number of dogs I am seeing that are coming to us with severe behaviour problems that can be directly related to the previous training they have received.
I have been dealing with this frustration for years. Wanting to stay professional, I have taken numerous steps to try to protect our dogs from this treatment. I opened dogma. I educate and certify myself and team. I started the apprenticeship program to get more educated trainers out in the city. I require the graduates of the program sign a code of ethics to ensure they are only using modern, science based training methods. I start free puppy classes to try to get people off on the right start and avoid heavy punishment at a critical age. I continue to expand our education programs to better educate the public on dog behaviour and communication so that they can better understand how their dogs are responding to this type of training. And yet, I still receive emails like this constantly.
So, in thinking about this, I realize that most of us positive trainers are a fairly well-mannered group and I have always appreciated that. But, I sit and reflect on the trainers that do not take a reward based approach and how quick they are to publicize some inaccurate and harsh criticisms against our training. Why are we so quiet? Do you as the public feel like you have the right to know about this? Do you want to know about this?
Then I think about how some dog owners are so quick to go to this training and are so quick to defend. We are often made to be the bad guys. We are jealous. We are using gimmicks. And I just can't help but sit back and wonder why we even are in this place to begin with? Do people honestly think this is ok? Is it because we just trust people who call themselves the experts? I don't want to get into a big argument, but do want some dialogue. I strongly believe that it will be the dog owning public that really force the change that needs to happen in the industry.
I have always tried to be proactive. I want us to lead by example. I am not sure if I am just being impatient with the change that is taking place, or maybe I am just tired. But, we need to stop this from happening. This is not about business and competition. There are an amazing numbers of qualified and wonderful trainers in this city. We are all working towards the same goal and want to see each other be successful. This is not just about differing opinions. This is hurting our dogs – these dogs don't just need training; they are emotionally damaged. I don't want to see these trainers just end what they are doing. I want to see them change. I know that ultimately they care about dogs, otherwise they would not be working with them. They have maybe not been given the same opportunity to get started within the industry learning from the right people. We all need to grow. We all love dogs. We get them as companions and they do so much for us.
I would appreciate some feedback. How do you feel about this? What do you think needs to change? I will continue to write on more of the specifics on this topic.
I will end with one of my favourite quotes.
"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion."
– Author Unknown
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 !)...
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 :)!!
Having your dog accustomed to being behind a gate (or door, sx-pen, etc.) can be helpful in many situations. It allows the dog a quiet place away from potentially stressful activity and gives you time to remove them when you cannot be fully supervising them. Preparing your dog to feel comfortable when being left alone will prove to be a useful skill throughout their lives. The steps to accustom them to a gate are:
1. Put the gate up somewhere in your house and always have it there to start, so that bringing out the gate does not become a trigger to them that they are going behind it.
2. Occasionally toss treats onto the other side of the gate for your dog to find on their own.
3. Feed the dog's meals on the other side of the gate.
4. After a few days, begin introducing a cue. Say your cue (ex: 'Behind gate'), toss treat. Praise as dog eats treat and then cue him out with another cue of your choice (do not reward the dog for coming out from gate).
5. Repeat step 5 numerous times until your dog enjoys going behind the gate for the treat, without actually closing the gate.
6. Start to cue the dog and encourage them to go in on their own. Once they are in, reward with a treat. Ensure you cue them to come out.
7. If they are hesitant to go in on their own, wait it out. Do not repeat the cue! Stay upbeat and positive and do not force them behind.
8. If the dog still will not go on their own, end the session – stay calm and do not appear frustrated. It was just too much for your dog. Try again at a later time. If the dog does go in, jackpot reward them!
9. After dog will go into gate on cue, begin to shut it when they go in. Treat repeatedly while they are in the closed gate to start. Only do small increments of time to start and then increase.
10. Start to get up and walk around, around room, towards the gate.
11. Take one step over the gate, then two, etc.
12. Start to walk around on other side of gate, while remaining in sight. Ensure you are returning to dog and rewarding.
13. Begin increasing duration by keeping yourself busy while dog is behind the gate. Go back and reward as needed when dog is being quiet. Ignore any crying or whining. Never let the dog out of the gate if they are crying. They need to learn they only come out when they are quiet.
14. Next start going out of sight for short periods. Build this up the same as the above steps. Do not continually make the time longer – vary this. Keep your sessions short!
15. As your dog begins to use the gate more, ensure you are not only using it when you leave the dog home alone. They may begin to pair the gate with isolation and create a negative association.
16. Always teach your dog that the gate is a positive, safe place for them!