Frito Paw: No It Isn’t A New Chip Flavour


Puppy Scratching fleas

Today’s topic, while a little gross for some, is one that most canine caregivers cannot avoid. For many of us, at least at some point during the lives of our canines, we will experience a period when our canines smell like corn chips, may appear itchy, shake their heads repeatedly, continuously nibble on their paws, and even perform some butt rubbing on the carpet…. A period of Yeast Overgrowth.

That distinctive “frito” smell (some say it smells like corn chips, or popcorn) is a sign that their immune systems, for a potential multitude of reasons (which we will highlight later), can be slightly off kilter, causing the development and overgrowth of various factors that normally exist in harmony on our canine’s skin (and even ours!).  Note: A canine’s natural body odour will have a smell similar to corn or nacho chips, but it is when this smell starts to be quite pronounced, smell sour, or smell slightly off-putting, that you know the balance is off.

Yeast growths can be regional or systemic, occurring in just one ear, or on one paw, but can even over the entire body… leading to an extremely uncomfortable canine.  When the canine begins to scratch and nibble at these zones, they can quickly grow in size, become sore, raw, and weepy, produce discharge, and even become secondarily infected.

The reasons for these changes can be quite wide spread.  For some canines that have just come off of antibiotics or steroid treatment, the time it takes for their systems to rebalance leaves them open for overgrowth of yeast and bacteria that would normally be kept in control by the other “good” micro-fauna that populate the same area.

Yeast overgrowth can also occur in canine suffering from allergies.  Again, their immune system is compromised by being busy fighting the “allergy” and it leaves them more susceptible to yeast-overgrowth.

yeast cartoon

This overgrowth is also more likely to occur in some breeds of canines.  Brachiocephalic (squished, or flat faced) dogs, and dogs with lots of extra skin and skin folds have lots of little spots in which yeast can hide and thrive.

So what can we do!?

The best way to keep on top of yeast overgrowth’s is to keep our canine clean and healthy. Regular body checks of their ear’s, paws, anal region, and “arm pits” are good places to start.  It is far easier to deal with a small spot of overgrowth on one paw than two, three or four paws.  If you have just come from a wet park, or the beach, make sure you help dry the ears and feet using a soft, clean towel.  Pro Tip: Perform your checks when you are looking for ticks after a walk so it doesn’t seem like an extra chore!


Dog earsIf your canine is susceptible, or is a frequent swimmer or mud roller, cleaning the ears using a mild ear cleanser/pH balancer after swim/play sessions will go a long way to keeping those ears healthy and happy.  Ask your veterinarian what is best for your application.  I have had great luck doing this with my Lab and his ears are totally manageable now with an inexpensive over-the-counter product (even with all his swimming 🙂 ).


Yeast cells thrive in all the warm, wet, nooks and crannies.  So you can imagine all the Dog Pawlittle hiding spots on a paw… fur, nails, pads!  So one of the best “natural” ways to deal with a yeast overgrowth on paws is using a foot soak to make sure all the areas are addressed.  Anti-fungal washes, and natural options (water/peroxide/vinegar solutions, tea tree oil) are available so talk with your vet about what preventative methods are best and what concentrations to use.


If you have a canine that gets full body overgrowths, or have multiple spots in different locations, using the “soak” approach to give their whole body a bath with help make sure that no spots were missed being cleaned.  Veterinarians can recommend further treatment, some taken orally, other’s prescribe creams/gels to help soothe and address “hot spot” locations of overgrowth.  Make sure you know all the in’s and out’s and possible outcomes.

When it all goes wrong:

Sometimes we miss the small signs.  We forget to do our regular checks and things get out of hand.  If you find a spot that appears white, almost creamy, can have a negative smell associated with, or has discharge associated with it and you haven’t encountered this sort of thing before, CHECK WITH YOU VET. These sort of over-growths are quite painful and while your dog will do it’s best to hide it, it will only get worse without addressing the issues.  If you find your canine has these issues often, your dog could be suffering from a food allergy which needs to be addressed.  Veterinarians/Nutritionists can even recommend anti-yeast (low carb) or anti-inflammatory diets to help keep this in check, and make sure your pup is healthy and happy, and to keep you from worrying.

So next time you smell the “frito paw” you will know!




Starting to feel like spring? Groom away those wintery coats with these tips!


Monk and DogSpring is nearly upon us!!  For many of us in Canada it still means a month more snow, but for many parts of North America, we are well on our way!  Flowers are growing, bees are buzzing and FUR IS FLYING!

For us, spring time means shed time.  Our Labrador, Zoom, begin to molt out his downy fur from winter and we start to see more and more tumbleweeds of Zoom-fur blowing around signaling yet another sweeping!

Shedding is a totally natural and healthy part of a dogs life and while it can be an indicator for some underlying conditions is it happens chronically, seeing an upswing in the amount of fur your are cleaning up is totally normal! Keeping on top of it can be a real challenge, and for some of us, nearly impossible. This can especially become a problem when guests come to stay who are not necessarily “dog people” themselves and seem to have a knack for picking out outfits that not only attract the fur like flies to flypaper, but also for those guests with allergies. Here are a few easy steps that can be taken to minimize the impact for your family on a regular basis and also for those special guests:

  1. Daily Grooming: Brush your canine’s fur everyday. Especially true for those of us living in flea and tick country, make sure to groom it all: top to bottom, legs, belly, tail, neck, arm-pits, etc.  A rule of thumb for the mainstay tick-born diseases is that they require 24 hours of attachment time to transmit to the host (dog).  This will also help keep matts from occurring, and massage the skin to help remove dead skin and loose fur.  There are many products out there for general and specific breeds’ grooming needs. From rubber to metal, bristle to flea comb, there is something out there that will work for your purpose. I find certain combs and brushes work better for particular body regions (e.g. the rubber Kong brush works best for me around the head), so consider having a few different brushes on hand. Need help deciding? As part of our product review services, Canines By Design can help you pick out the right grooming tools and show you how to use them.

Pro-tip: Bring your brush to the park and do your grooming outside to avoid generating extra dander in your home’s ventilation system.

  1. For quick “tumbleweed” touchups, use an electrostaticlly charged broom (e.g. Swiffer) that will make your life oh-so-much easier when guests are arriving soon. Many options are re-useable and green as well (Save the Planet!) Electrostatic dusting cloths are also available.

Pro-tip: With a daily sweep, one static cloth can last over several days. Keep the in-use cloth on the broom wrapped in a plastic bag for easy use.

  1. For guests and family members with more serious allergy issues, I would recommend dusting and sanitizing surfaces (helps with saliva allergies), vacuuming of all chairs, couches, carpets, etc., washing any bedding and towels they will use, and also changing out the furnace filter if possible to one that offers HEPA-level filtration to decrease allergy-related particulates in the air. If you have a severe case, then renting a carpet cleaner for any bedroom carpets will be useful as well.

Pro-tip: After cleaning, keep the guestroom door closed before their arrival to avoid more hair buildup.

Part of being a proactive canine caregiver is keeping in tune with your canine’s hygiene. Regular veterinary checkups, teeth cleaning, and nail clipping are all very important aspects of care giving, but one aspect that can be neglected is regular dog bathgrooming, and dermal (a.k.a skin) inspections. Our skin is our largest organ and its function (e.g. maintaining a homeostatic balance within our bodies) is essential for life – and the same applies to our canines. Unusual and rapid onset of shedding can be an alarm bell for changes in health, or health-related issues. Stress, bacterial infections, contacts with toxins, pregnancy and even organ disease/failure can all cause rapid shedding. By being proactive caregivers, we will see these changes faster. By performing daily grooming rituals we can minimize any “surprises” hiding under our canines fur, ensuring their skin and coat remain healthy.   Dermatitis, hot spots, parasites, growths, cuts and scrapes hide under a fur coat, but can all easily be found and monitored with daily routine.

Being a canine caregiver is an active process. Balancing the needs of your canine with the demands of life can sometimes be challenging. Constantly having those furry tumbleweeds blowing around is annoying (to say the least), but your dog’s shedding shouldn’t be a deterrent or source of undue worry when welcoming allergic guests. Following the few suggestions above and taking the C.B.D. approach of “setting up for success” will help minimize both the hair and the stress, and finally nix your grandmother’s idea about knitting a sweater out of all the fur blowing around at tea time.

Dog Food Part 2: Using the Tips


qualitycontrol            In our last post, we discussed four tips to help you navigate the pet food industry: (1) Do your research, (2) Price does equal quality, (3) Consider country of origin, and (4) Know your canine’s needs. I specifically wrote the post from a neutral standpoint because it is an industry needing clarification and is already filled with opinions, false statements, varying “safe standards” and even research with opposing results.

So, you have done your research… still feeling lost? Did you jump onto and see the hundreds of different food listed and think: How will I ever know what is right?

Below, we will discuss each section listed last week as a whole – using my particular viewpoint as the base for examples so that you can see the research process in action. Finding the right food isn’t too overwhelming, but it is about reading labels and making informed decisions when choosing the optimal nutrition for a new or existing canine family member. Knowledge is power and the effectiveness of our decision is based on the time we spend looking into product.


1. Does the canine have any pre-existing medical conditions, such as allergies or gastrointestinal limitations, that require us to immediately refine our search based on key ingredients, or ease of digestion, etc.? For some, our adopted canines don’t come with this information so mediccarefully watch their eating and “business” (poop and pee) habits to give you some insight into this area. Do they already have coarse fur, dry skin and lots of dander, or maybe itchy paws? It can be as simple as a hygiene fix, but for others these are signs of an allergic reaction and are indicators that a change is necessary.

2. Then, I start with Begin by looking through the products listed under the 5-star rating. There are lots to choose from, but you will then see what brands keep showing up and the specific products they order. This is your starting point. Why?

In general, the five star rated foods will be more expensive (large bag between $65-80 CAD), but these producers know where their individual ingredients are being sourced from; they will have higher standards for their finished product, check their quality more frequently and offer, in general, a product with “available nutrition” for the dogs being the primary driver – pushing fillers and less nutritious items much further down, or completely off, their ingredient list. There are a few outliers that have managed to produce products that are fairly nutritious and more cost effective and these will fall into the 4-star range (e.g. Kirkland Dry Food), HOWEVER, these products have ingredients sourced from multiple locations based on the size of their corporations’ reach and the cost effectiveness for them in doing so. But remember, not all countries follow the same rules and standards, etc. Unlike Petco, Costco still sells food products from China, which as we discussed last week, have been found to make dogs very sick and even kill.

3. Write a list of a few brands and specifics types (e.g. chicken, beef, fish, or lamb) that you think will suit your canine best. Now jump online and go to their individual company webpages. Look at areas such as their mission and mottos. While they will (of course) want to look as favorable to potential consumers as possible, the companies that really care about their products will tell you all about how they source their ingredients, how the food is prepared stampand why (listing benefits), and will sometimes give you a more in-depth nutritional breakdown and ingredient list. Still can’t decide? Contact your veterinarian to see what products they endorse and add that to your information gathering (NOTE: some veterinarians are sponsored by companies to promote their products so while they are a wealth of information, if they only sell one brand out front you might want to contact a variety of veterinarian offices to see what they might recommend).

4. Call your local vendors to determine availability and price point. You don’t want to necessarily pick a food that is iphonehard to find, or one that always needs to be ordered in. If they don’t carry it and instead offer you an alternative or two, write those brands down and do a little more research before committing.

5. Start with small bags, a few cans or a couple weeks of a raw food diet. Transitioning to new food takes time, so transition to new products slowly over two weeks, by gradually incorporating larger proportions of new-to-existing kibble for each meal time so that, by the end of the transition, they will just be beginning to eat only their new kibble. Then, try the new diet on its own for an additional 1-2 weeks to determine if it is working for your canine (through obvious and less obvious signs such as energy level, stool analysis, etc.).

Always consult your veterinarian or canine dietician when it comes to your canine’s nutrition. Many veterinarians have acknowledged the role nutrition plays in our canines’ lives and have kept up with the rapid changes that have occurred in the dog food industry. However, the more knowledgeable you are going into that discussion, the more specific your questions can be about your own canine’s needs, and the more confident you will feel leaving the vet’s office.

It’s a great feeling to know that the time you spent researching food for your canine will help them live a happy and healthy life, free from the impacts that a less nutritious diet can have on their mental and physical health. Have any more questions? Contact me and I’ll be glad to use my resources and colleagues within the pet food industry to answer your questions as best I can.

Happy Kibble Hunting!

Dog Food Part 1: 4 considerations when choosing treats and dinner


Happy Hour Dogs

The dog food industry has come a long way since the days of generic “dog chow” – and it continues to change all the time. It seems like everyone has an opinion these days on their preferred all-protein, no-carb, low-carb, raw-based, home-prepped, homegrown diets and which brands are best and/or should be avoided at all costs. And, even amidst all these changes and new approaches to dog nutrition, we still see ads for “old-school” products like pigs ears, bully sticks, and products imitating foods like bacon (come on… the dogs know it isn’t bacon).

What we can infer from the fluctuations of the pet food industry is just that… it is changing. Like the field of canine behaviour, we are learning new things everyday. With behavioural training, while the traditional approach to the ways we interact and “command” dogs still exists, it has given way to a softer, positive and far more educational approach (for both the canine and caregiver). The food industry is the same – it is transitioning based on academic study and knowledge. What we know about canine health is developing rapidly, and this knowledge is setting higher health standards by producers and industry regulators, contributing to nutritional guidelines and teaching us what it means to feed our dogs a balanced diet.

As caregivers, it can be overwhelming. Who do we listen to? How do we know what is right? To help, here is general guideline that I follow when I enter a store and look through the various food and treat-related products on the shelves:

  1. Do your research before you go. A good starting point is This third-party website has reviewed most dog foods on the market and can offer feedback regarding theirstudying-large ingredients, the level of quality regarding production (e.g. use of chelated minerals versus none), the nutrient breakdown of the product and even highlight controversial ingredients* if they exist. READ LABELS. Just like your mom told you to do for your own food purchases, if you are reading the ingredient list and can’t, at least, pronounce the first five ingredients, put it back on the shelf and look for a more natural, less processed option.

*Controversial Ingredients: Those ingredients that exist in the product that have yet to be tested for their nutritional value, created as a by-product of another process (e.g. tomato pumice), or are not usually found in canine food products but do exist in other animals food (e.g. sun-cured alfalfa).

  1. Price = Quality: Unfortunately for our bank accounts, the pet food industry has a direct relation between price and quality. Much like buying certified organic, free-range or pesticide free products means a larger grocery bill for our family, the same 100% Qualityapplies to canines. A finished product cannot be magically better than the parts that make it up, so in many ways you get what you pay for. Be very careful when buying “deals” at discount stores, box stores and even pet-specific retail locations. Last week I discussed costs and lifestyle changes that occur when you bring a dog into your life. If you are working through this process, budget high for food and treats just to make sure you cover off any unforeseen changes that might occur in this area inflating the monthly costs (e.g. a change from kibble food to raw food because of severe allergy issues).
  1. Country of Origin Matters: Canada and the United States have similar, but different, food standards between our countries. One comparison that always makes me chuckle is that kid-approved Kinder Surprise Eggs are completely legal here in Canada – but are very much illegal in the United States (They are not something you ever want to bring over the border!). If these differences exist within the “human” food industry, you canworldmap expect them to also be present in the pet food industry. In fact, the pet food industry is even less regulated… by a substantial degree (although this is beginning to change). It is therefore important you take this into account. If products produced in North America are not subjected to strict standards before our pets ingest it (e.g. safe bacterial load levels after the drying process in bully sticks and pig ears), you can be certain that there is even more variation when you start to look at other countries with completely different cultures and belief systems (scary, isn’t it?). While a large corporation might save money by outsourcing production, the savings passed onto us might come with some qualitycontrolvery real dangers. In fact, Petco announced January 5th, 2015 that it will no longer carry ANY Chinese-imported food products in their stores across the United States because of the canine deaths and sicknesses associated with the consumption of these products. (These products are killing dogs everywhere). Petco even went as far as to say that they will only source products from countries with similar standards (like Canada, U.S., Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and South America), even though it risks tens of millions of dollars from the changeover.

NOTE: It should be stated that even the best of the best dog foods created in North America are not immune to recalls and issues, but they are far more likely to be caught early through standard checks. also offers an e-mail service for any recalls that occur. Sign up with them through e-mail and if a recall occurs, you will receive an e-mail notification.

  1. Not All Canines Are the Same: As I stated above, not all canines are the same. Some canines have special dietary restrictions, allergies or have gone through surgeries and trauma that prevent them from partaking in particular food stuffs. What works for one, may not work for another. If you are, or think you are, one of those caregivers, then you will want to be very careful about the products you purchase and what ingredients they contain.   A new trend in the pet food industry is single food-bowl-281980_1920source protein kibbles, raw food and treats. This is a blessing for those of us that have canines with allergies as it allows us to begin to eliminate and determine what the source of the allergy is… Imagine trying to do that with a kibble that has beef, chicken and fish present in it! Start with small bags, a few cans, or a couple weeks of a raw food diet. Transitioning to new food takes time, so transition to new products slowly over two weeks, then try those products on their own for an additional 1-2 weeks to determine if it is working for your canine (through obvious and less obvious signs such as energy level, stool analysis, etc.).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Always, always, always consult your veterinarian or canine dietician when it comes to your canine’s nutrition. Nutrition’s influence on their underlying health is just as critical for canines as it is for our bodies so you need to make sure they are healthy and eating well. If you are unsure of how to achieve optimal nutrition for your dog, get a second, and even a third, opinion.

Being educated, using these four guidelines, and staying up-to-date with pet food industry changes is the best way to make sure your canine is fed right and feeling great!


Dog-safe Christmas! Know the facts!

Christmas Zoom

Zoom Getting Ready For Christmas

It is hard to believe that we are wrapping up 2015!  As we all get ready for the holidays, we wanted to just remind everyone of a cornerstone concept for Canines By Design – Setting Up For Success – and how employing this thought process will help you and your dog stay happy and healthy as you embark on the New Year.

Deck the halls with dog-safe practices!

The holiday season usually brings with it a change in décor in the house, with decorations, garland, candles, wreaths, and sometimes Christmas trees being introduced into the home environment. Some of our favourite decorations are very toxic and very dangerous to canines and are especially important to keep at a safe distance from their inquisitive mouths.

  • Poinsettias, Lilies, Holly, and Mistletoe are all very toxic to dogs and can kill. If you have a canine that is new to a house full of holiday

    Poinsettias Getting Ready For the Holidays!

    cheer or you are entertaining guests and cannot monitor your canine effectively, DO NOT use these in your house. If you feel they must be there, try using the faux (silk) variety of the plants to eliminate the risk.

  • Snow globes can contain ethylene glycol (antifreeze), which is inviting to dogs because it tastes sweet, but is a serious player in unintentional deaths from poisoning. Place them where they can’t be looked at as balls to play with.
  • tinsel


    While Tinsel isn’t “toxic”, it is extremely dangerous. It grabs and cuts at the walls of the intestine and can be deadly if ingested. Keep all tinsel out of reach or try a new decoration with less serious consequences.

  • FullSizeRender

    Tethered Tree

    We have all seen pictures of the fallen Christmas tree and offending dog looking guilty beside it. Instead of inviting disaster (and broken ornaments) into your home, tether your tree to the wall if possible.A couple of nails and some baling twine will eliminate a big risk. If you think it looks “ugly,” you can decorate the twine with ribbon or hang your Christmas cards along it to hide it!

  • Chocolate Cake

    Chocolate Contains Theobromine

    Holiday Foods: Grapes, Raisins, and Currants can all cause
    Kidney failure in canines. Chocolate contains theobromine, which is highly toxic to dogs. Fatty Foods such as skin and gravy in large quantities can cause inflammation of the pancreas, abdominal pain, vomiting and bloody, loose stools. If turkey is being served, everyone should have a little piece at Christmas (ok, not those with a poultry allergy), don’t give your dog the scraps. Save them a little piece of lean meat that they can snack on later for good behaviour and make sure that you don’t feed them at the dinner table. Try to also avoid putting snacks and treats on low counters and tables as they might be just a little too inviting for those new puppies and rescues that have recently joined the family.

T.A.P. A better Relationship:

One of our first posts ever, T.A.P. stands for Train, Appropriate Activity, and being Positive, positive, positive. Remembering this acronym is an easy way to remember to work with your canine throughout the holiday season and how you can make sure their needs and requirements are still being met amongst the celebrating and family time.


T: Train

Take time everyday to work through the various commands that your canine already knows.  Two 10-minute sessions a day with my Labrador are enough to run through the expansive list of behaviors that my boy knows (and even includes helping me tidy up the recycling around the house, and putting plastic bottles into the appropriate bin!).  Also try changing up the location when you are doing the training session.  Maybe one day you will work on the commands at home, and the next you will perform them while out on your walk.  See any differences?  Behaviors can change depending on the environment so “proofing commands” in different locations with different environmental factors will help ensure that your canine will listen the next time it wants to run across the field to say hello to their best buddy.

A: Appropriate Activity

Daily exercise is as important to a canine’s health as it is to ours.  All breeds, small, large, flat-nosed, round, or dainty, will benefit from activity every single day.  The key to this is appropriate activity. Dogs come in quite a spectrum of sizes that have a direct impact on their physical capabilities.  So think of activities that are appropriate to the physical limitations of the canine (e.g. age, size, and breed related restrictions) as well as positive for their development and behaviour (e.g. non-destructive behaviour). It is important that these limitations are taken into account while partaking in daily activities to ensure that your daily play sessions are fun, productive, and free from harm.

P: Positive, Positive, Positive

The third, while arguably the simplest, can be the most difficult to embrace 100% of the time.  It is to keep interactions, activities, and environmental situations positive for both you and your canine.  Just like in our human education system, encouraging and constructive environments develop well-adjusted individuals keen to contribute positively to those around them.  The same goes for you and your dog: keeping interactions positive will ensure that you both are willing and ready the next time a training situation arises.  I like to tell clients that they should always “set up for success.” Set up your canine to succeed as best he can, as often as possible.  You will be happy your dog is succeeding, and he/she will be happy that they are doing the appropriate, and rewarding, thing. Most importantly, your canine will be willing to “play-ball” again as they learn that success feels GREAT!!

This is a very busy time of year. As forward-thinking canine caregivers, we attempt to balance the needs our families including our four-legged members. Holidays provide a break; a chance to have fun, smile and remember what we are grateful for. Incorporating this list is just a small step to ensure that your canine stays safe and has as much fun as you! Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas everyone!



We’ve all met that social butterfly… the boisterous canine who just comes right up and says “Hi, hi, hi!” And what about those lone dogs who surprise you off leash, and you are unsure if their owners are bring up the rear, or…?

There are many scenarios where we can find ourselves face to face with a canine we haven’t met before, and depending on the situation, it can be either a run-of-the-mill, or frankly, nerve wracking experience.

Most of the time, there is a good chance that these naturally social creatures are just approaching to say hello (and possibly are wondering if you want to play). However, if you aren’t sure, if there are children around (either of the two- or four-legged variety), or the canine displays signs of agitation or nervousness, you should take the time to work through a few steps before attempting contact.


It is always best to avoid approaching an unknown canine without their

Fawn and Black Coloured Pug

Ying and Yang

caregiver’s permission. Assuming their caregiver is engaged and aware of their canine’s comfort level with new meetings, this is the best way to prevent a potentially dangerous interaction. I do know, though, that there are many instances when this simply just isn’t possible, so here are a few scenarios and steps that can be taken to minimize risk and ensure that, on your end, you are taking the proper precautions.

The basic on-leash meet and greet

  1. Stop and take a breath. First thing you can do, look for their caregiver. If they are on leash, that is an easy one. Ask them first if the dog is friendly and if you are allowed to approach it and say hello.
  2. If the owner says no, move out of reach from the dog. Do not make prolonged eye contact with the dog as that can be taken as a challenge. Allow the owner and the dog to move around you (versus you move around the dog) and continue on with your day.

There are some caregivers out there that seem to blind to their own canine’s “shortcomings.” Just like a proud parent, inappropriate behaviours can sometimes be overshadowed by love. The next scenario covers the instance that the owner says it is ok to approach but the canine appears to be not as comfortable with the idea or the environment they are currently in (potentially because of you or who you are with, such as a child, or your own canine).

The “uncomfortable canine” on-leash meet and greet

  1. Again, ask the caregiver or the person with the canine if it is OK to approach the canine and say hello.
  2. Ask the caregiver for the name of the canine. I always like to know the name as I feel like it helps “break the ice” with the canine.
  3. Begin by saying hello to the canine by using their name. Does their disposition change? Do they look more relaxed now? If not, just say “thank you, its ok, and have a nice day”.
  4. There are many factors that contribute to a canine’s current emotional state. Environmental factors such as noise, surrounding population density, and familiarity with the area all contribute. Internal factors such as current health status and underlying medical conditions, energy level, and previous experiences also all contribute. They are not just happy or sad, angry or melancholy, but rather composites of these states, just like we are.

One to avoid...

(One to Avoid)

You might be wondering, how do I know if a dog is happy, or sad, nervous or fearful, or a mix? There’s a lot I can say about the nuances of canine body language, but here’s the bottom line: If you are unsure, it isn’t worth the risk. If you are experienced, well versed, maybe even specialized in understanding the dynamics of canine body language, you will be more confident with a larger variety of situations that come up. Either way, a cautious approach is always best with a new dog until you understand where the canine is coming from.

Simplified Dog Body Language Explained

This is a generalized poster that helps demonstrate dog behaviours through their body language (click to enlarge). What is not shown here are the small degrees of change in language that occur between each of these visual stages. Modern Dog Magazine also tackled this large topic to help explain how different parts of the canine’s body language will change depending on mood, and also how they can be paired with other body movements to. The ASPCA also has a good resource to start your understanding that goes into each section of the body and what it could mean.

We can now discuss how to actually interact with a “stranger” dog that has approached you in a socially forward way, simply to say hello! The initial steps will all be same, but in this instance we will assume the dog is off leash so its approach is based on its own comfort or discomfort with you being there.

That Trusting Golden Smile

The off-leash “social butterfly” meet and greet

  1. Ask the caregiver what the name of the canine is. If the owner is not within talking distance, try to see if you can see their name-tag without reaching towards them, or approaching any closer.
  2. If you cannot see the name tag and being your social interaction by breaking the ice this way, you will need to rely on your body language skills. A neutral demeanor displayed by the dog (neutral stance, neutral height on the tail, neutral wide wags of the tail, and neutral positioning of the mouth and tongue) as all signs the canine is ok with you being there.
  3. Again try to avoid continuous eye contact. When canines meet other canines in a natural setting, they do not meet head on making constant eye contact. In their eyes, this is adversarial, not friendly. They circle each other and usually meet face to bum to start.
  4. Remain calm, and use a calming voice at all times. Lower yourself slightly to appear less forward, but always maintain an exit route (e.g. keep standing with bent legs versus, sitting on the ground where you cannot get up and move quickly if need be). Ideally you will have your body slightly turned to the side versus facing the dog straight on. Allow the dog to make the next decision. Likely at this point the dog will approach you and smell. Allow them to do this and give them time
  5. Outstretch your arm towards the canine slowly, maintaining a comfortable distance. Again watch their body language and allow the dog to make the next decision. That might be close enough for them, and they may change posturing or move away themselves. If they want to approach you, they will make the move. Likely at this point the dog will be wagging its tail in a big way and will wiggle towards you closer.
  6. Allow the dog time to sniff your outstretched hand before attempting to pet. Again, we give them the time and chance to either move to the next step or move away from the gesture.
  7. If their posturing remains neutral and playful then your first pet should be from around the side and not over their head. Standing over them and placing an arm over their mouth and head can be taken the wrong way and may make them feel challenged or anxious. A really happy and friendly dog will likely circle and wiggle their head away from you and give you the opportunity to pet their rump and back. Never try and grab their collar or around their neck as this is a challenge and can be an impediment to their freedom of movement, both of which can turn and friendly meet into a negative one.
  8. At this point their caregiver has likely caught up with their canine and you can then confirm their name and continue playing closer with them as you see fit.

Out For A Walk

The last scenario I will go through is just like the one above one, with the addition of small child or your own canine being with you at the time the unknown dog approaches.

The off-leash “social butterfly” + companions meet and greet

  1. Follow the same steps (1-4) as above.
  2. Before turning, lowering yourself and initiating a greeting, look at your own canine to see how they are reacting. They are the body language experts, and if your canine is well socialized and gets to interact lots with other canines, they will pick up on exactly what is being said much more quickly than you ever could. I trust Zoom’s understanding and ability to “read” other dogs so it’s a good start.
  3. If your own dog or child feels anxious by the presence of the unknown dog, then its time to leave the environment and continue on with your day. Set up for success!
  4. In the instance that you think its safe and OK to take the next step, have your child or dog wait to greet. I have found in my past “meet and greets”, if I break the ice being the one to “say hello” first, the canines with me will then also be more relaxed and willing to “say hello” when it is their turn. You are taking a risk here though and need to pay attention to the body language as you will be the first to find out if you misread something.
  5. If all seems well, follow steps 7 and 8 above.
  6. Once the canine has met you and you feel confident in your analyses that both dogs are neutral then invite a greeting between them. Use your calm voice and help coach them through the meet to start with… saying “good boy/girl” and “go say hello” are verbal cues that can go along way to help control a greeting and make it a friendly one.
  7. If you have a young child with you, wait until the unknown dog’s caregiver has shown up before initiating a greeting between the dog and child. Make sure that you ask if the unknown dog is OK with children and then use your mad parenting skills to then teach the child how to interact appropriately with the dog (e.g. avoiding the head, ears, and mouth region and petting the back and rump instead).

Getting approached by a dog can be stressful, especially if it catches you by surprise and is maybe a little too forward with their movements, but practicing these steps can help you make a positive situation out these moments and can help you make the right decisions and avoid a potentially dangerous outcome. Don’t forget to check out our post on The Yellow Dog Project to find out how easy it is to give others information about your canine when they meet them in their community!

Zoom and Oliver Wondering What Is Next!?!

Higher Level “Shaping” Through Positive Reinforcement (No, it’s not a secret weight loss technique!)


Canines By Design

School Pic

Ever watch a certified service dog in action, and envy their well-developed technique? It’s nice to daydream about your own pooch mastering these moves, but know it doesn’t happen by chance.  Service groups around the world spend many thousands of dollars, and hundreds of man-hours, perfecting technique and working up a skill set large and effective enough to ensure that these canines can pass their extremely difficult final exam.  Sometimes all this work pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t. Just as not all humans are cut out to be brain surgeons, not all canines can meet the rigorous criteria that will allow them to work with a disabled companion.   As we look on at these service teams in awe of their abilities, it can be discouraging to consider that this level might only be attained by “the best of the best.” I’m here to attest to the fact, however, that…

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Canine Caregiver Consistency: Bridging the Language Barrier

Consistency At Dinner Time Helps Create Good Dinner-Time Manners

Consistency At Dinner Time Helps Create Good Dinner-Time Manners

Time for another repost!!  Lets talk about canine caregivers, specifically about one, oh-so important area that affects our relationship with our canines: our consistency.

Professionals do not become “Pro’s” overnight. Doctors do not become doctors on a hope and a dream, NHL All-Stars do not achieve greatness by sitting on the couch, and people dedicated to a deep understanding of canine behaviour don’t just wake up one day with the ability to speak “animal.” Such individuals work diligently and train mentally and physically to create the basic skill set required to master their area of expertise. Consistent effort and practice of the fundamentals are important exercises that help all types of professionals excel and reach the top!

That word, consistency, pops up quite a bit. Consistency can be defined as the “steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc.” (, 2014). In the canine world, we talk about consistency of technique, timing, methodology, reward, punishment, routine, etc. but we don’t necessarily say why we want to be consistent. Well consistency, or being dependable with action and response, in all aspects of your relationship with your canine can have a profoundly positive impact!

All relationships are built on the basics of communication. Consistency, or acting in a consistent way as you instruct, praise, correct and go about navigating the world around you, will greatly help canines understand your requests and current emotional state. Consistency can give them clues on how to respond or prepare to respond. Being consistent will help our canines through:

Practice Practice Practice.  Zoom Helping Unload his favorite groceries

Reliability: Instructing, praising, redirecting and timing are the cornerstones to educating your canine in both an effective and efficient way during training sessions and new encounters. By structuring your training sessions and creating a plan to achieve new goals, we can control our learning sessions more effectively and add to our ability to remain consistent throughout the process.   By doing so, we are actually able to increase the reliability our canine’s behaviour across different situations and scenarios as they come up in our day-to-day lives.

Faster learning/sharper learning curve: Adding a level of consistency to our interactions with our canines will help them understand what is being asked of them regardless of the situation. If your dog has gone through a learning process where the actions and results are the same every time, the connection between cause and effect quickly becomes quite clear for them…. If this happens, and I act this way, this outcome (e.g. praise) will occur. If the outcome to their response varies in each “trial” or occurrence, then the connection becomes muddled and it will take longer to learn the right behaviour, as well as the possibility of learning the wrong behaviour can also arise. This is a basic fundamental of behavioural conditioning (both in a classical and operant sense) but isn’t necessarily thought of in a “practical application” sort of way when we are out in the world with our canines.

Emotional Understanding: Along with increased reliability of behaviour and ability for faster learning, working on the consistency within us will help our canines understand our emotional state. If we react to the same situations in a similar fashion each time, our emotional response remains consistent and our canines will begin to learn what we are/are not comfortable with. They can then begin to predict how we will react, thus speeding up their response to various situations and furthering the development of the human-canine bond. Don’t believe me? An article just released at the end of November shows canines demonstrating an understanding of subtle changes in human communication such as emotional tone, intonation and volume changes. Read more on how dogs do understand their master’s voice.

Adding consistency to our interactions with our canines requires practice. After a training session or new encounter/situation has come up, take an introspective moment to assess what went on, how your canine behaved, and most importantly, how you behaved and responded (acted). You may quickly find a key… possibly why the scenario worked out perfectly, and maybe why it could have gone better and how you can facilitate that the next time!

Need help with your consistency? Like a personal trainer for physical fitness, a large part of my work is assessing the areas of your canine relationship that could use more consistent effort. I design and chart training sessions and goals that you and your dog can follow and achieve together!

References: (2015). Consistency Definition. Retrieved from: Accessed on: October 14th, 2015.


Being Canine Prepared For the Worst: Canine Bug Out Bags


Northern California

Seems strange that it was just August 2014 that I wrote an article on being prepared, and making sure your canine is ready for the worst too.  Fast forward a year, and for similar reasons (another act of Mother Nature) I feel compelled to bring this subject up again.

Being prepared can seem like an over used motto, but some very serious and real outcomes can be alleviated and even avoided with a little pre-planning.  With the devastation seen in Northern California, it is easy to see why forest fires are scary, seemingly “living” things that can destroy thousands of hectares, homes, even towns, without slowing.  Wind, humidity, ground moisture, human activities, and even other acts of nature (e.g. lightening) are all factors that can cause the speed, direction, and intensity to change.  All make fires very unpredictable and can catch residents off guard, requiring them to leave without a moments notice.  You might ask how we can be prepared for that?  Well in many ways we can’t, but if we have an evacuation plan in place, just like the fire drills we had at school growing up, we can make things happen quickly, orderly, and most importantly, safely for everyone involved.

One way to facilitate a safe and speedy evacuation is to have a “bug-out” bag for all your family members.  Most people have a good idea of what a bag for a human would have in it, but what about our canines?  What is important?  What are the must haves?  Well look no further, here is a list to help you make sure your canine is just as ready as the rest of your family when the time comes to split!

  1. Food: Whether it is kibble or cans, bring enough food for at least three days. (And a way to open the cans!)
  2. Medication: Any specific medication needed for your dogs. Zoom doesn’t have much, but I’ll be including Zoom’s tick and flea medication. Other examples: arthritis, heart, anti-seizure, eye or ear drops, etc. Again, have multiple days’ worth in case you cannot return home for a refill.
  3. Water: Try to bring enough bottled water to prevent dehydration during the first 12 hours of an emergency. Infrastructure may not be working, or county water sources maybe tainted.
  4. Collapsible food and water bowl.
  5. An extra leash, harness, and ID collar, in case you can’t get to the part of the house where you normally keep these items.
  6. Medical records: Have a printed and/or electronic copy of your canine’s medical record in case they are injured or you have to go to a different veterinarian than normal. Having their background information can greatly accelerate how vets can help you out in the event of an emergency.
  7. Have a basic first aid (e.g. compression bandages, topical wound treatment) to help treat any injuries that could have been sustained during a natural disaster.
  8. Blanket: This can help keep your dog warm, give them a bed to lay on, and can also help you treat shock or hypothermia if needed.
  9. Strong Bag:  You don’t want to put all this effort in, put everything in a plastic bag, and have it rip spilling everything while you are running out of the house.  So make sure the bag is sturdy (e.g. heavy rip stop nylon), can be closed to avoid contamination, has easy to grab handles, and suites your ability to carry things.  If you can’t carry a lot in your arms, get a backpack style bag that you can sling over your shoulders!
Zoom's Bug Out Bag!

Zoom’s Bug Out Bag!

NOTE: Try to make sure your bag is in a good place you can grab easily and also make sure it isn’t too heavy. You don’t want to struggle with the weight of the bag. If your pet is going for a sleepover or a longer stay because you are out of town, drop them off with the bag and let the sitter know what it is for and why you have made it.

It doesn’t take long to create or keep a bug-out bag maintained (fresh food, water, and medication), so I would encourage you to set aside half an hour this week to plan one out. And if disaster strikes, you and your furry friend will be very happy you took a few minutes to plan ahead.

If you would like to share ideas of what’s in your bug-out bag, or you want to send pictures of the final result to our community, tweet them to @CaninesByDesign. And of course, I’m always here to answer any questions about your bug-out bag and what you can do to make sure you and your canine are prepared in the case of any emergency.  STAY SAFE!!!

Fall Blues… Back To School and Back to Reality: Fostering Canine Adaptability, not Destruction


Fall Blues

Time for an important post (or repost)!!  Some may have seen this last year, for all you new followers, this one is well worth the read and could save you some headaches down the road!!!

August has faded into September and thousands of students are heading back for another school year. While students might be dragging their feet, the arrival of fall is usually accompanied by a smile of relief from their parents! It means a return to normalcy and a schedule. Summertime activities keep everyone busy and entertained, including your canines: Everyone is home, people are happy and excited, and nice weather usually means frequent trips to a favorite beach, lake or park. When September hits, the kids sigh with procrastination, the parents sigh with relief… and, in many cases, our canines sigh with sadness because their home dynamic changes drastically.

At home, things can get quiet quickly without children playing and moms and dads temporarily home on holidays. Two months is enough time for this level of elevated activity and companionship to become a constant fixture in our canine’s life. With back-to-school and back to work, schedules are shuffled and new routines are made. Sometimes in all the chaos, our furry companions can get missed, and some assurances that they have become used to, and somewhat reliant on, might not happen.

I could spend this whole article talking about variables and how they can have a resultant effect on your canine, but my goal here is to help you ensure your canine has the skills to deal with changes in their routines and help make sure they are adaptable and not destructive.

Pro Tips:

  1. Start new routines slowly and gradually.
  • If you know there is going to be a schedule change for your canine, start preparing for that change by modifying your current schedule gradually over a few days.
  • Have family help out by explaining why this gradual change is important.
  1. Plan ahead to make sure your canine will still get all their necessary exercise, both mental and physical.
  • We have our social lives, work, friends and an integrated community. Your canine has you and a select few others that they rely on for everything. Don’t forget that! If it means waking up earlier to ensure they have had a decent walk and training session prior to a period of time on their own, then schedule it in!
  • Again, have family help out. If you have children, small 10-minute training sessions can become part of their regular schedules before or after school. These moments can become great family bonding time where everyone is together smiling and having fun… including your puppy.
  • If you think an 8 hour work day feels long for you, try being a dog waiting patiently at home. I am blessed that I work in the canine world, which means Zoom is almost always with me. When he isn’t, we try to think of our day in three-hour blocks. Modify your schedule, utilize a trustworthy neighbor or friend, or join a local community walking group. There are many ways to make sure your pup doesn’t have to spend countless hours and days alone waiting to relieve themselves or go socialize.
  1. Always, always set your canine up for success during alone time.
  • Leave music or the TV on to add some ambient noise to the environment so that the house isn’t silent all day as silence can heighten anxiety in canines.
  • Use the same routine when leaving every time. Tell your canine “you will be back” every time. Offer a Kong with a little peanut butter or frozen pumpkin in it to help ease the initial separation and keep them distracted when you go. Doing this consistently will also help your canine pair “positive feelings and excitement” when you leave versus feelings of negativity and fear.
  • Make sure that your canine is in an environment that is safe and enriched. By cleaning up garbage, removing chewable items (power cords), leaving the floors clean and making sure they have access to safe items (items you have had success leaving with them) such as their bed, you help make sure that if they do become anxious that they don’t take it out on something they shouldn’t.
  • As noted above, make sure both their physical and mental needs are taken care of BEFORE you go. A bored mind will wander and an anxious body will only compound this, creating a situation in which your dog may try or do something they have never done before (e.g. chew furniture).

Taking the mental and physical needs of our canines into consideration during periods of transition and change will only help to make your dog adaptable and flexible, decreasing your already-long list of worries and stress.

If you are unsure of what you can leave or do with your canine in your situation, I’m here to help. Contact Canines By Design and I would be glad to help set you and your canine up for success by creating safe space solutions in and around your home.

... Well It Looks Comfy For Him Still!