Wednesday, 11 June 2014 00:00

"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.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014 00:00

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:

  1. Stroke the dog and give them a treat for being calm.
  2. If they become excited and start mouthing, use a treat as a distraction to start.
  3. Start on their back, move down their tail and under the belly. Touch their legs and move down to their paws.
  4. Touch the top of their head and their ears, moving to touch around their mouths.
  5. Do each body part multiple times ensuring your dog is calm and accepting the touch.
  6. Then start picking up paws, looking in ears and opening their mouth while rewarding.
  7. Add more pressure and prolong each touch while rewarding.
  8. If at any time your dog becomes fussy, go back to where you last as success and slowly build up.
  9. Keep the sessions short and positive. Quit when your dog has complied, for even just a few moments, and slowly increase the length of your sessions. Reward the dog immensely for all cooperation.

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:

  1. Have your dog in a sit or a down at your side, ensuring they are comfortable and settled.
  2. To ensure you can see clearly, lift the dog’s lip up. Start at the back of the mouth at the top back teeth, and brush your dog’s teeth just as you would your own. Ensure you are gentle and calm, and make sure to go right from the gum line down to the bottom of the tooth, in a circular motion.
  3. Continuing with the top teeth, move along by brushing the rest of the back side teeth, then the front teeth, and then the other side. You do not need to worry about the inside of the dog’s teeth.
  4. Once the top teeth are done, repeat the process on the dog’s bottom teeth. Don’t brush too hard because you can damage the dog’s gums and cause bleeding if you do.
  5. While you are brushing your dog’s teeth, look at them to check for any visible tartar buildup, damaged or chipped teeth, inflamed gums, dark spots or other issues you may have to bring to your vet’s attention.

Good dental care and healthy teeth go a long way in keeping your dog happy and healthy!


Wednesday, 07 October 2015 00:00

couple walking with dogA little effort goes a long way towards a life you can enjoy with your dog 

Having a dog as a family member is a wonderful experience. They love us unconditionally, are loyal and are always honest about how they feel. Dogs are a source of joy in our lives, but as in any relationship, there may be challenges. Your dog may do things that confuse and frustrate you, or perhaps they develop behaviour concerns that are upsetting for all involved. The good news is that these are preventable and there are many things we can do to ensure we can enjoy a lifetime of happiness with our dogs. In this post, I am going to outline 10 easy things dog owners can do to ensure we get the most from the time with our dogs.

  1. Train
    Training is much more than just teaching your dog to sit, come when called and walk on a loose leash. Training is what makes them attentive to you, provides you a way to effectively communicate with them and helps them navigate our crazy human world. It enables them to know what is expected of them and teaches them manners. Training is what allows them to be a part of our lives. By not providing adequate training for your dog, you are setting them up for a stressful and confusing life.

  2. Groom
    Only some breeds require regular and more frequent visits to the groomer, but all dogs require basic grooming. This includes nail trims, brushing and teeth and ear cleaning. If introduced properly, grooming can be a great bonding time with your dog. It also allows you to do regular checks on their body for health reasons. And regular grooming keeps your dog feeling better and is good for their overall emotional well-being. Nails that are too long, dirty ears and unkept teeth can cause unnecessary pain for your dog.

  3. Diet
    Just like us, a poor diet can leave your dog feeling sluggish, cause gastro-intestinal issues and have many other negative impacts on their health. A proper diet ensures they feel good and keeps them at a good weight. Spend the money on a high quality food for your dog to save more money on health bills in the long run. Expensive vet care can cause unnecessary stress so do your part to keep your pet healthy through diet and regular vet visits.

  4. Exercise
    We have all heard the saying, “A well exercised dog, is a well behaved dog”. Exercise is critical to ensure your dog’s emotional and physical needs are being met. Exercise should consist of walking, running and playing to provide physical stimulation, and also consist of training, teaching tricks and puzzle toys/games to provide mental stimulation. Ensure you are not over-doing their exercise either or not providing any structure. Too much over-stimulation will have adverse effects and potentially cause behaviour concerns.

  5. Play
    Play with your dog. Engage with them through games such as tug and fetch. These are excellent self-control exercises for your dog and a great way to bond. Get silly with your dog as well. Let go of your inhibitions and play chase, wrestle (not too hard to encourage inappropriate behaviour), and enjoy some fun together. This will be good for both of you and is a wonderful stress management tool.

  6. Explore
    Do not get caught up in routine and always walk your dog just around the neighbourhood. Do not forget that they are stuck in your house all day and their walks are their only experiences outside of there. Get them out and let them experience the world. Their lives are too short, so help them get the most out of the short time they have here. Taking them new places provides important socialization and enrichment opportunities that will also help to prevent behaviour concerns from developing.

  7. Consistency
    Dogs learn through association and think only in black and white. They do not have a language, so grey areas do not exist. This means that if you want to ensure your dog learns quickly and abides by the rules, then you must be consistent in what you are teaching them. For example, sit must always mean sit. And if you do not want them on the bed, they must never be allowed on the bed. Or if you do not want them to jump, then you cannot ever let them jump, even if you love how happy they are to see you. By being consistent, you make a much less stressful life for your dog because they have clear consistent rules that do not change.

  8. Communication
    Too often we focus on teaching the dog things that we communicate to them. We rarely take the time to learn and adequately understand canine communication. By understanding canine body language, you will understand when your dog is nervous, happy, scared or excited. This allows us to better assist them and ensure they are comfortable and confident. It alleviates stress for the dog as we better understand them, so in turn we make better choices for them. It also allows them to be more successful and avoid conflict throughout their lives.

  9. Patience
    Dogs do what works or what they have been taught. Your dog is never doing anything to intentionally upset you, so there is never any reason to get angry at them. Your job is to understand this, be patient and teach your dog what is expected of them. If they misbehave, it is because you have put them into the wrong situation or have not trained them effectively. Do not get angry, but instead show patience and understand they are learning.

  10. Cuddle
    Show your dog affection and love. Ensure your dog is comfortable with how you are handling them, but take the time to enjoy quiet time together and in each other’s presence. Snuggle with them and experience the benefit petting your dog has on both of you. Studies have shown that petting our dogs lowers our blood pressure and settles us. Take this time to appreciate your dog and listen as your breathing syncs up together. Connect with them, smile and enjoy your cuddles.

    Your life with your dog will be full of many happy memories. Ensure you do your best to train, communicate effectively and bond with your dog. This will ensure they are happy, healthy and most importantly, well behaved. Follow these simple steps and you both will benefit.
Wednesday, 18 June 2014 00:00

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 :)!!

Tuesday, 02 September 2014 00:00

Having your dog accustomed to being behind a gate (or door, ex-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!


Megan’s Musings are by Megan Armstrong, Owner/Operator of dogma

Megan became one of Calgary's only Certified Pet Dog Trainers (CPDT-KA) in 2005. The CPDT designation means her programs are based on humane training practices and the latest scientific knowledge about dog training. In other words, Megan's dog training expertise is grounded in a thorough, extensive education and examination process. 

View Megan's bio