unleash your dog's spirit 


Tuesday, 23 February 2016 00:00

Megan's Musings: A Hard Lesson

training circle

We’ve all had it. The knot in the stomach, tightness in the chest and uncontrollable stress when we have done something wrong. I’ve messed up a lot in my life, but made a tremendous mistake recently. I have no explanation for it. It was something completely out of character. I have wracked my brain for reasons why. It’s the bottom of a downward spiral, I am afraid to admit. These past few years have been the hardest of my life, but also include some of my best accomplishments. I have an amazing partner, five wonderful pets, a great family, a successful business, an amazing team and have had excellent opportunities. And I cannot shake the feeling that I want to run away from it all.

It’s important to say right up front that absolutely none of what continues from here is to justify or defend the mistake I just made. Nothing at all.

Each day is a struggle to get up and face it. I have trouble sleeping. I walk around constantly with knots in my stomach and a feeling of impending doom. I have lost my passion. I am resentful towards others. I am losing joy in all of the things I love to do. I am emotional. I am tired. I want it all to go away. And those who know me well, know that I am a fighter. I do not give in easily. I am determined. I am going to push ahead. So I criticize myself for all this – I see it all as weakness.

Some background:

I started in the shelter world as a volunteer. I loved being there. It was hard but I felt like I could make a difference. I was hired on as an employee and was starting on Monday. It was the Friday before and my last day as a volunteer for behaviour assessments. We had been working with a beautiful dog who had impulse control concerns. The shelter did not train volunteers on how to handle this and had them taking Zeus for daily walks. He over aroused, jumped and ripped a volunteer’s jacket and drew blood. He did not do this because he was aggressive, but because he needed direction. But, he drew blood, so it was decided he was to be euthanized. How was this even possible? But, I trusted the team. I trusted them until I went into holding and saw Zeus in the back corner, sedated and waiting to be euthanized. And a pain like I had never felt washed over me. I wanted to scream, I wanted to rip the door open and run away with him, I wanted to do anything I could to stop this. I spoke to the team immediately and expressed my concerns and that I didn’t think enough had been done. The response? I was told that you cannot show that kind of emotion if you want to be successful at this job. Zeus was euthanized. And I cried uncontrollably the entire weekend. I struggled to get through the grief. The injustice of it all. The pain of feeling like I had not done enough. I wasn’t sure I could do the job. And then I realized I had to make a difference. I was going to take the job to stop this from happening. My path was set right then. I was going to do everything I could to stop the surrendering and euthanasia of dogs. I still have a picture of Zeus. He is smiling in the picture and I use it has my guide whenever I doubt myself or the fight I am taking on.

Fast forward to over 10 years later:

I run a successful dog training and daycare business. We have set out to get regulations in the industry. We work hard to show people how to successfully integrate dogs into our human world. I have poured everything into my business and have worked tirelessly to get here. I have met wonderful people, have exceptional clients, am surrounded by dogs, have made big changes and have the best team in the world. On the other side of this, I have had many dogs I love pass away. I have worked hard with owners and became very attached to their dogs, only to have to make the decision to euthanize the dog. I have seen the potential in dogs who then go into the wrong home and suffer tremendous stress and are euthanized because of it. I have worked with owners who have a wonderful dog, yet choose to ignore my advice and, in their own frustration, blame or are disappointed by the training. I have witnessed people who love animals and fight hard in rescue, save a terrified dog and then subject them to harsh training. I have become the hero and the enemy because I do not want dogs to suffer from aversive training. I have witnessed families agonizing over the behaviour of their pet. I have watched my team suffer with an owner’s decisions for a dog they are attached to. I have watched everyone in this industry tear each other apart. I have fought hard to ensure the dogs in our world get the training and handling they deserve. And these past couple of years, I feel like it has all been for nothing.


Owning a business is stressful and full of pressure. But, I always knew this is what I was meant to do. I loved every second of it and dreamed big. And this past year, I was feeling like I was losing it. I was detaching myself. Struggling. Feeling lost. And suffering. I would cry at home and tell my partner that I could not face it. Wipe my tears, put on a smile and fight my way through the day. I felt weak and was angry at myself. And in all of this effort to stay strong, I became weak and made a horrible mistake. I do not write this because I want to be a victim or to justify any mistake I have made. I believe there is a lesson in everything and I have learned a hard one.

What next:

I am dealing directly with the consequences of the mistake I made. However, I am also dealing with the deep-seated issue, which my recent mistake is of but one of many symptoms.

I have been ignoring all of the signs. I have suffered in silence for fear that it would make me look weak. I just recently returned from a trip and as we began our descent into Calgary, I was overcome with anxiety. Pain in my chest, knots in my stomach and tears began rolling down my face. I was embarrassed. I thought about reaching out to my team. I thought about talking to someone. And instead buried myself in my work. My passion has become too much, and as a result, I made a big mistake. If I can take one thing from all of this, it is that compassion fatigue is a real thing. Compassion fatigue is an epidemic in our industry. We are learning more about it and we cannot ignore it.

So, I realize today—this very morning—that to be strong, I need to share my story. I am seeking professional help. I am going to take on a different fight. We need to help each other. I feel sick when I think of the team I have had who have suffered through this and I did not recognize the signs. Or my colleagues. Or even the professionals I have learned from. I am going to share my story, we are going to talk about this and we need to do more to help each other. We are all here because we love the animals. We cannot take care of them, if we cannot take care of ourselves. Talk about your feelings. Surround yourself with support. Seek professional help. You are not weak. The world is full of suffering, but remember that “The kindness one does for an animal may not change the world, but it will change the world for that one animal”.




Dogs have become family members and it is easy to forget that they are not small humans with fur. Our human world is full of things that can scare or confuse our canine companions. Many standard items or regular situations for us can create stress and anxiety in our dogs. There are a wide range of noises, machinery, people, items and environments that do not make sense to themI highly recommend you read Empathy 101 for a brilliant take on what the human world is like for our dogs. The fear and/or stress your dog may experience could cause behaviour problems to develop. To prevent this, we must spend the time socializing and training them properly. We must also ensure we respond appropriately to our dog’s reactions to these items. Our dog’s success in the urban environment depends entirely on our influence and ensuring that we set our dogs up for success. At dogma, our goal is to create ideal urbanK9s; dogs that are well-mannered, confident and who you can take anywhere without concerns. In this month's post, I am going to share my ideas on how best to accomplish this to ensure your dog can handle the city life and grow into an urbanK9 you can trust.



This is critical to the success of every dog regardless of where the dog lives. Proper socialization involves taking your dog out and exposing to them new items, animals, people, surfaces, noises and environments and pairing this with positives. Your goal is to gradually expose your dog, ensure they are comfortable and to teach them that new things mean good things for them. This develops confidence and teaches your dog the world is safe. Active socialization is a key factor in preventing fear concerns from developing. Socialization should happen throughout your dog’s life, not just when they are a puppy. This ensures all of the activities, noises and items that a dog will encounter within a city are a regular occurrence for your dog.



Walk them in new places
Too often, we keep our dogs going out on the same daily walks. This does not provide them with the necessary stimulation and too long of always being in the same area can cause fear concerns to develop. This is because they are not being exposed to new places, so they may be stressed when you do finally take them somewhere new. Vary their walks at least a couple of times a week. Take them to urban centers, new neighbourhoods, parks and even other towns.  



Include them in your activities
Take your dog out with you and include them in any activities dogs are welcome at. This includes outdoor festivals, going over to friends or families’ homes and getting out to new areas. This is only recommended for dogs who are not showing any fear concerns. It is also important that you monitor your dog to ensure they are comfortable. When taking your dog out, give them time to acclimatize and get used to the area. Do not rush them and spend time pairing the new place with positives while keeping sessions short. Too much involvement in the human world can be hard on your dog, so be sure to spend the required time ensuring they are comfortable and that the experience will be a positive for them.


Train in new places
In our urbanK9 program, our higher levels and specialty classes focus on getting the dogs out to train in specific places. For example, the skate park, city transportation, dog friendly businesses, and urban centers. While we are in these areas we work on our foundation skills and spend the time teaching the dogs what is expected of them. Set them up for success and reward them for all good behaviour! If they are too excited or struggling, give them space and time to acclimate to their surroundings. Most importantly, be patient.



If your dog shows any signs of fear or stress, contact your trainer. Do not get angry, frustrated or push your dog into a situation if your dog does react to something. Doing any of thesethings will make it worse. Be sure to get in and work with a certified trainer (DCBC, CPDT-KA or KPT-CTP). Taking your dog out into the urban environment can be a challenge at first, but do not give up! If your dog struggles, go at quieter times. Be persistent and patient. As your dog gets out into new areas more often, she will begin to settle faster. People tend to give up on their dogs too quickly. They will not make progress if we do not work through the challenging times. Remember that you are both learning together. Keep sessions short and positive. It is a privilege to have a dog as a part of the family and their time with us is short. By focusing on the proper integration and training into our human world, you will develop the ideal urbanK9, which in turn allows you to spend more time together; a win-win for both you and your dog!


As always, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with questions!



 bulldog on leash looking up small

Training a dog is a responsibility, not a choice. But what is a trained dog? How do we define success? Success can mean different things for many different people. The goals we have set for our dog may be unfair or unrealistic. When starting any training program it is important that you have fair expectations for your dog. This is what will make your training successful and allow you to obtain the best results. By expecting too much, you risk causing unnecessary stress and confusion for your dog. In this post, I will share ways to ensure your goals help you to get the most from your training.


The first step is to identify what you would ultimately like to see from your dog. Do you want them to be social with dogs and people? Or well-mannered enough to go to a variety of places with you? Perhaps you have a shy dog that that is uncomfortable with people and new situations that you'd like to help feel safe and happy? Or maybe your dog gets upset when he sees other dogs and you want him to be social enough to go off leash?


When determining your training goals, ensure they are realistic for your dog. Proper behaviour modification under the supervision of a certified and experienced trainer can accomplish great things, but at times our expectations for our dogs are too high. For example, you dream of your dog going off leash and enjoying other dogs, but it could be something that your dog may always find too stressful and scary. Or perhaps your dog who is nervous around new people will never be a therapy dog who visits hospitals. It is important that our goals match the dogs we currently have and not our own personal desires.


The other side to this is that sometimes we let our own fears, stress or emotions impede the progress for our dogs. It may be that our own emotions overcome us and cause unnecessary stress in the dogs. Or many people worry about putting any stress on their dog, so they do not work them through their fears. By letting our own emotions take over, or by not applying small amounts of stress to our dogs under the supervision of a certified and reward based trainer, we risk trapping our dogs in a life full of fear. Yes, it may be nerve-wracking for them to meet strangers at first, but if we set this up properly, we can actually help them overcome their fears versus just managing them and avoiding the scary items. Choosing to not let a dog work through their stress and keeping them locked up in a house and 'protected' from the world is unfair. They will have to face scary items in their lives, so it is best to start preparing them for this and helping them through it.


We may also label our dog stubborn, stupid or dominant and assume that because of this they are untrainable, so we give up before we even start. These terms just indicate that we are not breaking the training down into attainable steps and are either expecting too much from the dogs, or not spending the time to train them. If you are frustrated with your dog, step back and set smaller goals, or seek the advice of a trainer to help you troubleshoot how to accomplish them.


By creating unrealistic goals for our dogs, we also risk pushing our dogs too far. This can happen with even the most basic skills. For example, your dog is just learning recall and you take them to the off leash park and get upset when they do not come when called while they are in the midst of playing with other dogs. Read our post on The dogma of Distraction Training to learn more about how to train with distractions. When defining goals for our dogs, we must be sure they are broken down into manageable steps. If your dog is struggling to learn a new skill, it is because we have made the skill too difficult, not because they are being stubborn or choosing not to listen. Be sure to break all of your training goals down into small measurable steps. This allows you to track progress and be able to quickly identify when you have expected too much from your dog. It also provides more immediate rewards and successes, which will motivate you both to continue to the training!


Training a dog can be challenging if you do not develop the correct training program for your dog. However, once you learn to create goals that align with the dog you live with, you will begin to see immediate success and you will both enjoy the training even more.


1. Define your training goals
2. Review the goals to ensure they are realistic for your dog
3. If your dog is struggling, you need to break down the steps as you are expecting too much from them
4. Work with a certified, reward-based trainer to help you set/achieve your training goals
5. Have fun!




The New Year is a time for new beginnings and planning for a great year ahead. Many people set out a list of resolutions to make the next year the best it can be. Dogs bring so much into our lives including happiness, unconditional love and loyalty to name a few, that we should include them in our promises to improve our lives in the upcoming year. I’ve outlined some ideas below on resolutions we can make with our dogs to enhance our bonds, ensure we enjoy our time with them and help us both stay as happy and stress free as possible.


Look At Life Through Your Dog’s Eyes
Dogs are such a part of our families now that it is easy for us to forget that they are not furry little humans. We think in human terms which can cause unnecessary stress and frustration in our dogs. Let’s start a new habit for the next year and try to look more at the world from the eyes of our dogs. Always take the time to think about how things may appear to your dog. They do not understand our verbal language, so cannot have things explained to them. An angry tone may frighten them, even when it is not directed at them. New items may be scary and threatening and we should not find this amusing, but instead should make them feel more comfortable about the item. Changes in the household can be confusing and stressful, so we should be patient and take the time to let them adapt or provide them adequate outlets. This new habit will mean that you always look at how things may seem to your dog and taking more time to view life from their perspective.


Learn A New Language
Not only do dogs perceive the world differently, they also communicate differently. Most behaviour problems that I work with are a result of miscommunication between dogs and owners. And 100% of the time, the miscommunication is on our end. Every dog owner should have a solid understanding of how dogs communicate. For this next year, take the time to learn this new language. We offer a Dog Talk seminar which is an excellent way to learn and watch for more coming from dogma to ensure you become fluent in canine communication!


Get Healthy Together
Our lives our busy and time flies by quickly. I understand it is hard to fit dog walks in every day due to busy schedules or being tired. However, we must remember that our dogs only see and experience what we involve them in or provide to them. Life can get boring for them stuck inside and this can result in behaviour problems. Make a resolution to get them out regularly and do not beat yourself up if this cannot be done every day. If you struggle finding time to walk your dog, hire a dog walker or get your dog the into dog daycare. For times when you can take them out, make the effort to take them new places and let them experience and see the world. Take them to new parks, new neighbourhoods, pet friendly businesses and on special outings. This is a wonderful way to bond with them and the added benefit to us both is getting some exercise!


Learn A New Skill
If you have not done training classes with your dog, you are missing vital foundation skills and socialization opportunities. Training classes are a must for every dog, so if you have not done them already, put basic obedience training on your list of must-do’s for this year! If you have already done obedience training, get out and learn a new skill with your dog. Try out agility, learn new tricks, let your dog’s problem solving skills amaze you, try Nosework or take a few of the wide range of fun classes you can do with your dog!


Lower Stress Levels
Did you know that studies show that petting your dog lowers your blood pressure and heart rate? Snuggling and showing affection to our dogs lowers our stress, so make an active effort to do more! If you are feeling frustrated or stressed, help yourself by spending quality time with your dog(s). For our dogs, studies also show that play is one of the most effective ways to keep them happy and stress free! Get out and let them run, play with other dogs, enjoy a variety of toys and just be silly! I am convinced that watching them play and experience such joy will also aid in some stress relief for you as well J


Eat Well
Proper nutrition is important for the overall well-being and health of all living creatures. It makes us feel better, so in turn keeps us happier. Ensure you provide your dogs with good quality food. And offer them some variety and special treats (of course, ones that are safe for them and given in moderation)! Their time here is short and it is unfair to deny them the opportunity to try new and delicious foods. Feeding them some human food does not mean you will have a dog that begs for food as long as you set it up correctly and feed them away from those areas or during the time you are eating.


Accept Things As They Are
Stop comparing your dog to a vision of an ideal dog or what you think makes a perfect dog. Every dog presents challenges because we communicate and perceive the world differently, and most things we deem as problem behaviour is normal for our dogs. The sooner you accept the dog you have and focus on appreciating all of the good qualities of them, the better things will be for both of you. An added benefit is that you will find that things begin to improve once you improve your outlook and attitude towards them.


Don’t Take Things So Seriously
Be goofy. Lose your inhibitions. Splash in puddles together. Roll down a hill. Play hide-n-go-seek. Sleep in. Dance. Throw snowballs. Make funny faces. Speak in weird voices. Play peek a boo. And do whatever else comes to you. Our dogs love it when we are carefree and silly, so do it more often. Do not let the days of the year slip away without fun. Do this with the one individual who will not laugh, mock or judge you, but instead join in with immense enthusiasm!


I hope these ideas enhance the bond with your dog even further and allow you the quality time you deserve. Life has a way of slipping by quickly, so practicing these ensures we make the best of the short time we do have with our beloved canine companions. Happy New Year!


Have some other items you think we should add to our dog resolutions? Or have you benefitted from already implementing some of these ideas? If so, please share in the comments below!

Friday, 20 November 2015 00:00

Megan's Musings: Happy Holidays Safety tips

christmas dog decorations small 


When most of us think of the holiday season we think of celebrations, creating happy memories and spending time with those we love. For many, it is a time full of love and joy. However, for our pets, it can be full of dangers and be a time filled with fear and stress. This is because many of the things we do to celebrate the holidays are foreign and new to our pets and can instead cause anxiety and pose potential threats. By following the below tips for each holiday item, you can ensure you continue to fill your holidays with wonderful memories that include your pets and help keep everyone safe and happy! 


Indoor and outdoor decorations can be scary to dogs. They light up, make noises and may even move. They only come out once a year and many are unlike anything your dog has ever seen. It is important that you introduce them slowly and give your dog time to investigate and become accustomed to them. Pair them with food rewards to ensure your dog views them as a positive. Take it slow and work at your dog’s pace; ensure they are not showing signs of stress and trying to flee. It is not funny when your dog shows signs of fear, so do not force them to interact or push the scary decorations towards them. For decorations that move or make noise, begin with them turned off so that you do not startle your dog.  Keep decorations out of reach to ensure they do not chew them up and ingest anything, and always supervise your dog with them!


Holiday Treats
It’s the time of year that treats and goodies are everywhere and they prove to be one of the biggest dangers! Chocolate and xylitol (an artificial sweetener) can make your dog very sick or cause death. Wrappers can also be fatal or cause major discomfort if digested. Keep them safe by always keeping treats, baked goods, groceries and wrapped gifts stored in a secure place out of your dog’s reach! Many dogs are rushed to the vet because they have ingested dangerous items, so be sure to keep wrapped gifts out of reach and double check the area after having guests or having food/gifts out. If your dog ingests something and you are unsure it if is dangerous, contact your vet. The below graphic illustrates the most dangerous items to your dog as well for quick reference:


dangerous foods


Ideally, it is best not to bring any holiday plants into your house to ensure your pets stay safe. This is because there are quite a few common holiday plants that can be toxic to your pet. These include poinsettias, mistletoe, holly and daffodils. Even your Christmas tree can make your dog ill and cause stomach upset. Keep your pet safe by keeping them out of reach or by buying artificial options. Lilies can be fatal to cats, so should never be in a home with cats as it is harder to keep them out of reach. Watch for any signs of sickness and to ensure a fun and safe holiday, don’t buy them! For the tree, take the time to introduce it slowly and always supervise your pets around it. Do not leave dogs who are young or are just learning about the tree alone with access to it while you are out. It can be intriguing to them and full of too many tempting items!


Presents are exciting for dogs and they will want to investigate them. If your dog is young, always keep the presents blocked (you can have them behind an ex-pen) or do not allow your dog access to the room unsupervised. Even adult dogs can get curious, especially if there are food items wrapped up. Keep them all out of reach until it is time to open them. Do not risk your dog becoming sick, getting an injury or even death.

Opening the gifts is an exciting time for all and may be overwhelming for some dogs. If your dog becomes too excited or stressed, move them away from the activity and give them a chew bone or stuffed kong to keep them busy. Supervise them when they are around the gifts and ensure they do not ingest any of the paper or bows. Do not get angry at them for misbehaving, but rather set them up for success and show them what to do so they can be part of the fun! Better yet, include them and have presents just for them that they can open and enjoy!


Santa Claus
Santa appears in many places over the holidays and although we view him as a jolly fellow, he can be very scary for our dogs! Many people also participate in pet photos with Santa which can make for a fun Christmas event and a special keepsake, but it can be an overwhelming experience for your dog. If your dog is unsure of strangers or has fear concerns, please leave them at home. For social dogs, help prepare them by introducing Santa costumes and sitting with a stranger away from you. Pair the photo session with big rewards, be patient and be sure that the ones organizing the event are doing the same. Taking the time to prepare them will make for a wonderful keepsake that you can enjoy for many years. 


Everyone wants to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones, including their dogs. However, parties are full of excitement, noises and people acting strange which can be too stressful for your dog. If you have a fearful dog, it is best to keep big celebrations away from the house. However, many dogs are not used to these celebrations so you can help them by preparing for the party. Before any event, ensure they receive adequate exercise and have stuffed kongs and chew bones ready to keep them busy. At home, give them a quiet space if they need time on their own and remove them for loud activities or games. Be sure to monitor them and give them time away from the party if they are getting too excited or seem unsure. Keep them at home if you are going to see the fireworks for New Years to ensure the loud noises do not frighten them. If you live near where fireworks are set off, keep them inside to ensure they cannot flee and remove them from the countdown celebrations to ensure they do not become too stressed with the excitement. With the right prep work you can happily celebrate the holiday season together!


Christmas Dinner
No one enjoys when a dog begs at the dinner table, but they only do this because they have learned that it works. It is also quite common to have guests that want to feed your dog from the table which can introduce bad habits and create stomach upset or worse for your dog. Teach your dog to settle away from the table on a mat and give them a chew bone or stuffed kong to keep them busy. If they will not stay, you can keep them behind a gate or in a kennel, but practice this before Christmas dinner. We have a great post on alone training you can read here for full details on how to teach this. This is an excellent skill to introduce now to ensure you can keep your dog safe and settled throughout the busy holiday season. I would also suggest that you also give them a special snack so they can enjoy their own Christmas meal!


The holidays are a busy time and it is great when we can bring our dogs with us when traveling to celebrate with friends and family. If you are going to someone's home and your pets are welcome, discuss with your hosts where your dog will be during the activities. Familiarize your dog to the activities and practice alone training before you go. Always be sure to bring a variety of chew toys and bones to keep them busy. Keep your eye on them and monitor them to ensure they are feeling comfortable and are not showing signs of stress. If they are, give them quiet time away from the activities. Also be sure to provide adequate exercise and short periods away from the house throughout the day. Be sure to bring familiar items from home and give your dog time to acclimatize to the new environment.


A little prep work can go a long way in keeping everyone happy during the holidays. Be patient and understanding with your dog throughout this time. Remember that this is all new and they are not aware of what Christmas means. A few small steps can ensure everyone is safe and stress free. And be sure to speak with your trainer or feel free to email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at any time with questions. 


Happy Holidays everyone!






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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