Dog-safe Christmas! Know the facts!

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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
    poinsettia

    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

    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.

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    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.

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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!

Green, Yellow, Red: What Zone Is Your Canine In?

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Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Part 1 of this mini series talked about how stimuli in our environment affect our canines mental state, how some variables can increase the level of anxiety and stress in our canines depending on their individual backgrounds, and how we can to begin to understand and work with these nuances in each of our furry companions. Part 2 then went into talking about the limits that each of our canines have, and how even when we are setting them up for success, and creating positive situations that each one of these interactions and moments is cumulative. As we build them up through appropriate interactions and training experiences, our canines are using up their “comfort/stress” fuel, and when this tank is empty, much like when we become over worked or over stressed, our mental “thinking” faculties begin to work inefficiently, that we and our canines are less likely to work through situations appropriately and can be more likely to default back to behaviours that we might be trying to stop or avoid simply because they are too tired to deal with the situation.

Part 3 is all about putting this all into action. Knowing what we now know, what is the best way to begin to tackle these “problem” areas of behaviour? Lets begin with another human analogy and an extreme version of counter-conditioning.

Thinking Like A Human:

Many humans are afraid of heights. For some, its any height, for others, its more extreme heights like standing on the top of a house or building. Now how would we be able to help any of them work through their fear?

At one time, a method called Flooding was used where a subject was subjected to a extremely high level of exposure to their known “fear” to the point they become numb to it. For some cases under extremely controlled environments, the process can work. However if even one aspect isn’t controlled for, it can have the reverse effect and even amplify the already existing issue. In the case of the person that is afraid of even a little height, a flooding example would be strapping a parachute on their back and having them skydive out of a plane. Sounds potentially traumatic doesn’t it? Imagine if they jumped with a trained instructor and they had their main chute fail and need to use the backup. Even though they landed safe, what effect do you think that added experience to an already intensely uncomfortable one would have? It is easy to see how the fear/uncertainty/unwillingness to engage in the future could be amplified by such a process.

Now picture the same person, extremely fearful of any height differences, being gradually built up to changes in elevation. Not only that, each small, and successful attempt is rewarded with praise and feelings of success?  Can steps backward happen in this scenario as well?  You bet!  That’s life! But each step forward is solidified through learning and each step back is smaller and as controlled as possible.

This is the progressive methodology we use at Canines By Design to help our clients achieve long lasting results and an understanding to work through any problem areas, whether it is desensitizing and counter-conditioning for canine related behaviours such as excitement, fear or aggression, or helping canines become more comfortable with particular environments, and even performing particular behaviours.

Canine Context:

Think of your canine a static object where the environment and the stimuli in that environment move around them. As your canine stands there, particular stimuli come and go, get closer, and then move further away. This applies to all stimuli. Smells come and go, sounds come and go, and visual cues come and go (albeit at different rates). Some of these stimuli are completely neutral, and are so for many reasons. One of the main reasons being that through previous exposure and learning experiences these stimuli offer no “outcome”, with those stimuli simply existing in the environment, and offering no “reward” or “punishment” outcome. But other stimuli are not so neutral. Positive outcomes (from their perspective) will drive the canine to perform the behaviour again, and negative experiences plus those that offer no outcome, can decrease the presentation of some behaviours and can also drive the canine to avoid or “control” those situations or stimuli.

In addition, depending on the severity of the previous encounter(s), this stress response can be immediate (think of our height phobia example in humans). For others, the stress response is more gradual, and as we get closer (or in the height example, as we get higher off the ground) this response grows until we cannot deal any longer. As these stimuli move closer to our canine, they begin to move through the zones of comfort. Check out the basic diagram below:

Zones of Comfort

The Zones Of Comfort:

If you and your dog area the black circle in the middle, you can see three distinct areas.

  • GREEN (outer ring): The green zone represents whatever distance is required from a certain stimuli for your canine to give it no attention at all. This is the “neutral” ring. At this distance your canine will go about listening to you and performing behaviours as you would expect and as you see in “safe” environments such as at home where they pay no attention to familiar stimuli around them. Think of this as your safe distance. Here you know you know you have your canines full attention and therefore have control of the situation. However, to train and work through behaviours we need our canine to be aware of the training stimuli/environment. For a young canine, or one that has led a sheltered life, the green zone may not be initially achievable in a new environment or one that offers high sensory stimulation. Make sure you are aware of this as you develop your bond and are getting out in your community together.
  • YELLOW (middle ring): As that stimuli moves closer to the center position it begins to transition from the green zone into the yellow zone. This zone, the “heightened awareness” zone, represents the distance from your canine from which the stimuli begins to illicit a response in our canine. They begin to look at the stimuli, body posturing may change, vocalization, leash manners, (there are many cues to engagement 🙂 ), and their resulting attention on you or the trainer may begin to change. OK, Time To Educate!!! This is the time to pull out all your redirection and set up for success techniques because your canine is now beginning to mentally engage with the stimuli, but is doing so at a distance where they still feel comfortable enough to listen to your redirection, continue to mentally engage with you, and learn from the situation.

It is important to remember though that we are also now depleting their “comfort/stress” fuel tank. Initially these tanks will empty more quickly when they are new to training and exposure (e.g. puppies or recent rescues) but their ranges will increase. You will know their tank is close to or empty when their attention and redirection skills are much less effective at a once effective distance (NOTE: this is very individual to every dog, and requires practice and time in different environments to see the small changes and cues, and understand how the relate to your canines internal state).

  • RED (inner ring): This zone is when the stimuli in your environment has moved close enough that your canine is focusing on it and you are “wrestling” to keep their attention. When we work with clients we treat this zone as the no go zone, but its not for the reason you may think. When stimuli enter into this zone, we as teachers will have an extremely tough time getting our students attention, having them focus on us, and learning “today’s lesson”. For some dogs this space is very close to them. Much like our personal space, and their issues lie when stimuli enter this. For other dogs, such as the example of a dog with a high prey drive, seeing a rabbit halfway across the soccer field might be close enough to be in their red zone, triggering previously learned behaviours (e.g. chase) versus listening to our redirection. As humans, we have a similar zone, that when things get to intense we can mentally “shut down” down, and rely on more basic “fight or flight” instincts. Some professions, such as Military, Police, Fire, and Rescue, train their employees specifically to be able to think in these tough situations (expand the range of their stress/comfort tank) and when its too tough for that, they have been conditioned through their training to still be able to perform their tasks. For the everyday canine caregiver though, we want to be able to comfortably go through our daily lives and make sure our set our canines up to feel the same way about things, so its learning in the yellow, avoiding the red!

A big concept to remember is that these distances or zones are fluid, and can change depending on the day, the particular environment, current health state of the canine, and also their energy levels and what kind of day they are having.  Knowing how stimuli have what kind of effect, at what distance, and when those stimuli transition from yellow to red takes a keen eye, patience, practice, and time to do it productively and safely.

Starting to think this way about your canine is an amazingly powerful tool and will help you view the world through their eyes. You will be able to quickly deduce “problem” areas anJeterd help avoid unnecessary confrontation while building both your canine and yourself up to certain situations at a safe and comfortable pace while you are out in your community! So now you are asking where can we help? Practicing the timing and learning to understand the cues in our environment and how they affect our canines takes time. Our motor skills and timing is just as important in the equation for success as our canines timing and skill sets. Let Canines By Design show you the way!

The Quick Fix: Should You and Your Canine Be Skeptical?

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canine jump!Being together, training together, playing together, smiling together. Canine Companionship…. It’s the life!! But occasionally, funny little things happen and certain behaviours can arise that become disruptive (in a “nails on a chalkboard” sort of way) during our special time with our canines.

Sometimes this behaviour starts off cute, but then veers toward the dangerous or destructive, and we might find ourselves in a state of confusion, anger panic, sadness, or helplessness… Our human nature takes over, and we rush to our nearest source of information (WebMD, anyone?) and attempt to label, define, and understand what is going on. It’s perfectly logical that we would want to know why our dog is doing said behaviour, especially if we aren’t confident in the appropriateness or safety of it all.

And, in a way, this attention to the situation is good! Canines are not mindless automatons without feelings or personalities. They are dynamic – and their resulting behaviours are not automatic responses to environmental cues. But what isn’t helpful when you are concerned is all the BAD information that is out there. There are pages and pages of misleading, wrong, and downright dangerous advice out there!

Have you ever watched one of those “As Seen on TV” adverts and said “Ya right….” Or “if only it actually did that or worked…” – maybe we would all have 6-pack abs and amazing golf swings. The reality is, the majority of these products don’t work, or they only work as a small portion of a larger plan.

Canines and their behaviours are dynamic, and the causes for their actions are as equally dynamic, with environmental and internal factors contributing to the “whole” behaviour. And yet there are umpteen people and products out there offering the quick fix. “Try this and your dog’s barking will be solved first try,” or “this collar will get your dog walking right.” The reality is, good behaviours take time to mold and fine-tune and bad behaviours take time to correct – because your canine needs time to learn what is right! Quick fixes attempt to treat the “visible” behaviours and in doing so can cause other inappropriate behaviours to arise, can harm the welfare of the animal, and can actually have no effect at all (except on your wallet).

So be aware of those “quick fix” promises! (But don’t feel hopeless!) This is the part of the change we are seeing in the Pet Industry, specifically the canine world. I, like my student cohort from Bergin University, are some of the first academic minds to have their post secondary and graduate education focus entirely on canines, understanding their history, development, physiology and psychology. We are being trained to treat the underlying emotions and behaviours that result in the “visible” behaviour and it is from this new wave of academic focus that we will move away from the “quick fix” concept to creating useable and successful programs that work, while putting the needs of the canine at the forefront.

Doggin It… I mean Bloggin It For a Year! Keep on Waggin!

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Today marks the one year anniversary of the Canines By Design blog, and actually, really, the one year anniversary of starting my adventure writing and sharing information with the world about my experiences with canines.

A very supportive family and amazing post-secondary academic experiences helped catalyze the dream of starting my own business that focuses on improving canine lives in our community. There is academic literature being published on a fairly regular basis now that surrounds canine welfare and behaviour and it is up to those of us that have decided to be a voice for canines to continue to learn and help spread this knowledge into our communities.

Canines By Design has created quite a little following of people over various social platforms in the last year, and I wanted to thank all of you for the support and interest in reading what I put up here.  I like to think our little community is drawn together by our like-mindedness towards canines, and our desire to learn as much as we can so that we can be there for them just like they always are for us.

Our positive and inclusionary approach with our canines will become the societal norm, replacing older beliefs with academic proof. Canine behaviour and welfare will stop being a “mystery”, and everyone will be able to share in the benefits of canine companionship!  Spread the word!  Change is a happenin’! 🙂

So THANKS for reading!  And THANKS for the support!  But Most of all, THANK YOU for loving your canine(s)!

Keep checking back each week as Canines By Design continues to explore all things Canine!  ~woof~

Came across this video of dogs underwater in slow motion! Enjoy!

March is Pet Poisoning Awareness Month – Do you know all the risks?

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Dog and FlowersThe start of March brings with it a change in seasons for many of us in North America. Spring is starting (sorry Eastern Canada), and we are getting the itch to clean, prepare and plan the coming warm months. March is also Poison Prevention Month and it’s a good time to remind everyone that there are many items in our day-to-day lives that are capable of putting our canines at a serious health risk if ingested.

sick puppyWith that in mind, I want to list a few things that are regularly found inside our homes, as well as items found outside our homes, that could affect our dogs. The first step is being aware that poisonous items, which we need and use daily, exist in our environment. The second step is to set our canines up for success by ensuring their environment is a safe space, with said items being cleaned up and secured away from interested and snooping noses. Here is the most recent list of top pet toxins provided by the ASPCA.

To protect your pet, simply follow the same processes you would as if you were taking precautions for a child.

Pet-toxic items inside your house:

  1. Human medication

Generally dosed for much larger bodies, even a small amount of medication can be dangerous. Keep all containers, tubes, ointments, vitamins and cold medicines away in a secure location so that pets cannot access or chew them. Don’t forget to also include veterinary products and medications. Flea and tick medication is highly toxic, as is joint and pain medication and supplements if they are taken in the wrong dosages.

  1. Household plants

This includes lilies, mistletoe, holly, azaleas, etc. There is unfortunately quite a long list, as we tend to like plants with bright colours and cool designs, which in Nature usually indicate a level of toxicity as a warning to others. You can see that list courtesy of the ASPCA, here. For some. the leaves and plant can toxic, for others it is the fruit; and for others agai,n it can be the seeds, or a combo of all three. Be careful what plants you bring into your house and, if you do bring plants into your canine’s safe space, you MUST ensure they are safe!

  1. Toys with movable parts or stuffing

Easy examples include plastic eyes on a doll or squeakers in plushy toys, both of which can become lodged in a throat or intestine necessitating an expensive trip to the vet. Take the same precautions you would with a small child. Don’t leave them unintended and remember that no toy is truly indestructible!

  1. String, yarn, rubber bands, dental floss all can cause ugly intestinal blockages.
  2. Food Items

Some food products are straight-up toxic, while others can cause mechanical damage if eaten (cooked bones splinter and get caught in throat and intestine, for example). Gum has xylitol in it, which is very poisonous for dogs (a small dog can be in a lot of trouble just ingesting 1 or 2 pieces), chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which can be deadly to dogs. The list is fairly extensive here as well. Think that is it? Well avocado, bread dough, ethanol (alcohol), grapes, hops, macadamia nuts, moldy foods, onions and garlic also make the list. Take a look at this link here again provided by the ASPCA for toxic foods commonly found around the house.

Pet-toxic items outside your house:

  1. Antifreeze (ethylene glycol)

It tastes sweet if ingested, making it very appealing for pets to sniff out and lap up. Unfortunately, this common product is used in the radiators of our vehicles to keep them cool, to keep plumbing from freezing over winter, and also used in our home’s air conditioner. It is possible to purchase antifreeze without ethylene glycol, and if this product simply became the norm in the industry, we wouldn’t have to contend with so many poisonings related to this product.

  1. Fertilizers/Pesticides

Used to keep plants growing, grass green, and to keep all those bugs at bay, any such products are fatal if accessed by pets.

  1. Traps and poisons

Used for rodent control, ant control, etc., these products can cause injury and can most certainly kill, as that is their intended purpose. Never leave poison baits in your canine’s environment.

  1. Cocoa Mulch

You can buy this mulch at garden stores, and because of the cocoa component, it has an appealing sweetness to it that can lure pets. It does, however, have the same active (read: toxic) ingredients as chocolate and can be just as dangerous if ingested.

Being a canine caregiver means ensuring that our canines lead happy, healthy and safe lives. Just as is the case for our human children, there are a lot of products in our environment that are toxic when not used for their intended purpose. It is critical that we are first made aware of what these products are, and secondly, take action to ensure that our canines are kept safe from them.

Happy Puppy

Accidents do happen. If you think your canine has ingested something they should not have, don’t wait or delay, take them immediately to a veterinarian and explain what you think they have gotten into. If you are able to bring the product with you, do so – as it will help the veterinarian understand what active ingredients are present and what course of action must be taken to address the problem.

Not sure if your canine has been poisoned? Some signs that can be seen after ingestion:

  1. Nausea and vomiting
  2. Mild to severe depression
  3. Wobbly, uncoordinated (drunken-appearing) gait or movement
  4. Twitching muscles
  5. Short, rapid movements of the eyeball
  6. Head tremors/ seizures
  7. Lack of appetite
  8. Salivation and drooling
  9. Swollen glands
  10. Decreased righting (standing up) ability
  11. Increased urination and increased thirst

Why Novelty Is Key To Canine Training

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Out For A Walk

Out For A Walk

One concept that I revisit often with clients and when I see other training teams in action is proofing. In fact, proofing was the topic of my second blog post ever, which you can access here. How often have we talked with a friend or another canine caregiver and heard that “normally they will listen” or “they have never done that before”? Well I am here to show you how a three letter word, NEW, will help your canine achieve the ability to stay “cool as a cucumber” and know how to act appropriately no matter what is going on around them.

Quickly, proofing or the concept of proofing with dogs, refers to the act of practicing already learned instructions (e.g. sit) in different places with different stimuli around. By doing so, we increase the efficacy of that instruction, or to put it another way, we increase the reliability that the instruction will be completed by the canine when asked no matter what is happening or going on around them.

New and novel things, items, and stimuli are just experiences, objects, and animals that we have yet to encounter in our lives. An extreme example is this, for many of us that live in Canada, the sight of a Lion would likely be a new a novel thing, but for someone that grew up in Central Africa, or who have been on Safari’s before, this sight isn’t necessarily something that will elicit an “oooo and awwww” reaction. A less extreme and maybe more realistic example would be a person trying out a new ethnicity of food. New smells, tastes, appearances and textures can be overwhelming for the uninitiated who is flooded with plate after plate of unknowns. But if that same person was eased in to the new food and was able to order a familiar item alongside a new an novel one, they will be much more open to the experience as a whole. They would be more likely to look back on it fondly than if they were traumatized by textures and smells they never thought could come from food.

Novelty applies for dogs as well. Novelty comes in many forms in our surrounding environments. It can be a surface they are walking on, the smells around them, the sounds, another new dog, or a new person walking them, a new walking harness, and even smaller changes like the time of day and lighting level (e.g. walking in the dark at night), the fact you are using a new treat for training, or that there is a new ball being used in the dog park. Small changes make a big difference!

For those of us who have spent time training and working with service dogs, we try to cover off as many of these “NEW” things that a service dog would encounter in their lives so that when it comes up again, and they are helping out their service partner, they will know what they need to do, not be surprised by what they encounter, and will still get the job done.

For the rest of us, proofing can be a bit of a new concept so lets use an example familiar to many of us, “sitting” inside the house, and “sitting” outside the house. Generally speaking, if the sit instruction has been taught using positive reinforcement, when we say sit, they should sit. And in this example, inside the house, this is exactly what we get. It also should be mentioned that in this example, I have a young puppy who has just learned sit, but because it is new, we have only practiced it inside so far. But at this point, I ask “Spot” to sit, and he sits. Now, Spot and I go out front of the house. We are going about our activities and I politely ask Spot to sit. No response. I wait 15-18 seconds to let him think it through, but still no response. What changed? Same command, same technique and procedures were used to ask and re-ask the instruction.

The major change occurred when we went outside into a new environment. We are in a new place, with new stimuli and a young puppy who hasn’t experienced it before. Like the person who was overwhelmed with new smells and tastes, this in itself can overwhelm them and make it hard to listen and think. Like being flooded with lights and sounds at a rock concert, this new place is full of stimuli that will contribute to “sit” being less effective outside.

So what can we do? Well this is where proofing is so powerful. Proofing can be thought of as practicing an already learned instruction or behaviour with a dash of novelty incorporated. Each time we practice the “sit” with Spot, we can make small changes to the environment, incorporating new and novel aspects, which will help Spot solidify the learned instruction in a variety of situations. For example, once he can sit inside, and sit outside by the front door, I will have him sit on a new and novel surface (e.g. tile, or a drain grate, or grass), proofing that surface. I could then practice sit when there is another novel aspect (e.g. there are other dogs in the vicinity [first farther away, then very gradually closer and closer over time]). By going through this process of practicing instructions and proofing them with a variety of stimuli, we can help teach our canines how the boundaries and behaviours that we have already taught them expand and apply out into the community.

Dog Friendly Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Proofing and Training Locations Revisited

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newspaperLast week CHEK News profiled Victoria, British Columbia as the second most dog friendly city in Canada.  While we vow to become number one, Victoria already offers a multitude of dog friendly locations and activities that you and your companion can take part in.  CHEK asked for Canines By Design’s opinion on the topic of dogs in Victoria, and you should check out that interview here!

One of the concepts I have written about here on the blog is that of proofing, and what means to “proof” canine behaviours. Through living in and exploring the greater Victoria region, I thought I would share for my fellow Islanders and vacationers alike, some specific places that are dog amenable (if not friendly) where you can work on proofing your canine’s behaviours, socialization and have the opportunity to get out as a whole family.

Downtown Victoria:

With a variety of shops, downtown pedestrian walkways, waterfront parks and paths, downtown Victoria offers a wide variety of stimulation for canine and caregiver training. With a lot of activity going on, downtown Victoria will, on average, offer a higher level of stimulation for your canine depending on the time of day you and your furry friend venture around. So, remembedowntown victoriar to set yourselves up for success and work in environments where you both can succeed. This could mean going out in the early morning when there are less crowds, or being aware of your location and possible “exit” strategies to quieter neighborhood streets if needed. With paved paths and sidewalks, the downtown area offers a good, less muddy, option on those rainy days.  There are lots of “pet-friendly” shops which you can bring your dog right inside to help you with your shopping and they are often marked with a “pet friendly” sign

Dallas Road Dog Park:

One of the larger and more popular dog parks in the area, along with an affiliated dog friendly beach and some amazing views, Dallas Road is sure to offer your family a great hour or afternoon. dog park signActively visited, there is always a playgroup to join or use as a proofing situation. Dallas Road can get muddy in spots when it has rained but there is a paved path where you can practice heeling along and also some grassy areas that drain well. Because of its size, Dallas Road Dog Park offers medium to high stimulation, but depending on the weather and the time of day, both low and high levels can be found. Remember to obey off-leash rules. For more info see Paws in Parks.

Butchart Gardens:

Looking for an outdoor event for the whole family or maybe you have relatives or friends visiting but you want to bring Fido along? Perhaps you need a pet friendly spot where you can meet with your friends for a New Years Eve gathering? Butchart Gardens makes the list because the grounds are not only dog friendly, they are dog welcoming! They have recirculating water bowls placed around the grounds and the staff even have biscuits to hand out.Lots of unique smells, sites, and sounds, Butchart Gardens is a great place to practice some proofing, and socialize your canine. Butchart offers a low to medium stimulation and can be a good place to practice on-leash work. NOTE: Because Butchart Gardens are just that, a garden, it is important to make sure you keep track of your sniffing canine so that he/she does not nibble on something exotic and potentially toxic.  It is also the only spot on my list that requires admission (well worth it!!).

Elk Lake/Thetis Lake:

Thetis Lake ParkThese lakes are two of our family’s favorite spots in Victoria. Both areas offer amazing views, beautiful trails and facilities. Elk Lake has a well-maintained 10km loop and Thetis offers a ~3km or ~4.4km loop as its first accessible activity. Both areas have many more trails to explore above and beyond these two options, plus both have beaches with swimming access that are dog friendly during the tourism off-season (i.e. No dogs off leash on the sand between June 1 and September 15). However, there are spots along the water in both locations where a canine (or person) could take a swim to cool off during the summer. Trails can be busy at peak times, such as sunny nice weekends, so stimulation in these areas will vary depending on time of day and weather conditions. Remember that it’s not always just activity level that can be stimulating: For some canines, simply the sights and smells of a quiet park trail can offer new and novel experiences and present a level of stimulation that a caregiver needs to be aware of while training and proofing.

I’d love to hear your great suggestions of places to take and train your dog in and around Victoria. Where are your favorite spots?

Canines By Design works with clients in all of these locations, plus many more, on Vancouver Island. Where are your “proofing” tough spots? Check out our list of canine services, including on-location proofing, and then call me to talk about a consultation to find out how we can improve your already amazing canine relationship! #caninesbydesign Caninesbydesign.ca

Ghosts, Ghouls and Drool: 7 Ways To Prepare your Dog for a Safe Halloween (+ Free Treat Recipe!)

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Ireland Practicing Being A Ghost

Ireland Practicing Being A Ghost

Halloween is fast approaching! For many kids (and some adults too!), that means dressing up as their favorite superhero or Halloween character, lots of candy, and even a little spooking!  For our dogs, especially young puppies, or those that haven’t ever experienced this strange onslaught of the senses, Halloween can be as confusing and scary as a fireworks show!

Think about it: Costumes cover our faces and add weird appendages to our features, strange people come constantly to our front door and yell… loudly! Is it any wonder that many canines display strong anxiety to these things? We might also put our canines right in the thick of it, taking them for a walk or bringing them along as a companion for our little trick or treaters. Imagine what they must be thinking when they come across that scary witch or graveyard of skulls?!

I often talk about the concept of “setting up for success” and for occasions such as Halloween where costumes are meant to evoke strong and sometimes frightening emotions, this concept becomes very important. In the service dog world, we proof and prepare canines for many different scenarios and possibilities that they may encounter during their busy lives helping out their family. In controlled environments, we expose dogs to the lights and sounds of emergency vehicles, encourage volunteers to come dressed in their work clothes to bring along the smells of the community and we have very generous fireman and police officers take time to come to the facilities in full gear, to expose the developing puppies to funny helmets, gas masks, oxygen tanks, and utility belts covered in things that might look like toys. However, for the majority of “household” canines, their exposure and learning experiences are slightly different. Some have a very integrative life, are out in the community all the time (or as much as possible), meeting new people and new things. Others spend some, or all of their lives around a few houses, and the local park. For any dog, at either end of the exposure spectrum, going around the corner and coming face to face with a Yeti, or someone dressed up as our favorite martial arts turtle can be quite a shock, and can evoke emotion and behaviours that we have never witnessed or experienced EVER!

You Thought I was Cute Before!!

You Thought I was Cute Before!!

So what can we do? Here is a list of things to keep in mind around the Halloween season and some ways to make All Hallows’ Eve as positive as possible:

For those of us with canine-enriched lives

  1. Have a good play with your dog at the local park or in your backyard well before you have to start handing out candy. Make sure their needs are met!
  2. Take them for a “business” run (pee and poop) before the trick-or-treaters are out and about. Usually it is still daylight at this point so you will also be less likely to be surprised by a costumed ghoul or ghost. Then take them out after when things have drastically calmed down and most, if not all, of the families have gone home.
  3. Usually someone stays at home to hand out candy. GREAT! Don’t leave your dog in the front room or by the front door unattended where they can be over stimulated by commotion outside and knocking/doorbell ringing. It also avoids any possible escape attempts.
  4. Set up a quiet and safe room for the canine. Put on the TV or turn the radio on with some nice easy listening, and pull the blinds over the window. For some, just running a fan in the room is enough white noise to block out stimulation happening at the front door. Make sure the room is safe for the dog, whatever their age. If they become stressed, they can act out on furniture, electrical cords, and doors. Set them up for success by minimizing dangerous items.
  5. If you are at the front door, take some time to check on them at a decent frequency. Reinforce their quiet behaviour with verbal praise and even the occasional delicious treat. (It is treat night for everyone else, after all! See below for a great recipe.) If they become anxious or unsure, spend some time to quiet them down and redirect these tense emotions towards a fun or happy thing. Get out their favorite toy or puzzle and have them work through it. Spend a little time running through their various commands so they redirect onto the task at hand, not what is going on outside.
  6. If your dog barks at the doorbell… Contact Canines By Design and we can help fix that, but for now, watch for people coming to the house or tape over the door bell with a sign to say “do not ring”.
  7. Make sure the candy and chocolate is out of reach from them. Also make sure that your children or guests know that the canine cannot have any “people” treats. Many kids like to spread out their candy on the floor to check out their “haul” after trick-or-treating. That’s fine… just maybe close the door to their bedroom first to avoid any canines snacking!

If you are out and come across a dog:

  1. Do not approach (even if you know the dog): Remember you are wearing a costume: Canines are very good at reading body language, facial expressions, and verbal language. We are running around having fun with raised/excited voices and covered faces (masks or makeup)… it doesn’t exactly give them a fair chance to assess the situation. If you have to go say hello, remove your mask and return your emotional level back to a relaxed and calm state before doing so. Even your own canine may second-guess that it is actually you when you are dressed up to scare!
  2. If you are going up to a house and you hear a dog barking from very near or right behind the door, turn around and head to the next house. While we want to give the benefit of the doubt to those caregivers, we cannot assume that the dog will be OK with us near their house and their people. They are already showing sign of arousal and they may make the wrong assumption and turn a fun night into a negative one.

MOST Importantly… Have FUN with your families this Halloween! While canines might not get the concept of dressing up and going door to door, they can still have fun and a delicious treat too! Try this easy recipe:

Simple Peanut Butter Pumpkin Canine Treats:

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups Peanut Butter (Natural)

1 cup of 100% Pure Pumpkin Puree, canned. (Not Pumpkin Pie Filling)

1 ¾ cups Whole Wheat Flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together peanut butter and pumpkin. Sift in the flour ¼ cup at a time just until the dough in no longer sticky.
  3. Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper until it is about ¼” thick.
  4. Use your favorite puppy or Halloween-themed cookie cutter to cut the shapes. Place on prepared cookie sheets
  5. Bake @ 350 for 8-10 minutes (non-convection setting). Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container (2 week shelf life) or freeze for up to 3 months.
Ready To Hit The Town!!

Zoom and Ember Ready To Hit The Town!!

NOTE: I would like to thank Kathryn Koh for the photos she sent me to use in this blog post.  Kathryn is very involved with my school, Bergin University, back in Sonoma Valley, California.  She volunteers to take many of the beautiful pictures of all the Bergin dogs, she is an active puppy raiser, trainer, foster home, canine caregiver, and helps out the school anyway she can!!  Many Thanks from here in Victoria!

Canine Intelligence: How Our Understanding Continues To Grow

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Making Light Work of a Heavy Snack

Making Light Work of a Heavy Snack

I was going to write an article this week about canine intelligence, but I quickly ran into a conundrum… they are intelligent in so many ways, I’m going to have to write a book, not a blog post!!!

Canine intelligence and what it means, stands for, and how it is represented is a hot topic these days. For a long time, we didn’t look at canines as intelligent, but rather we thought they were gifted with their nose, and something that we can train and mold to complete tasks.  Those tasks may have been something we didn’t want to do ourselves, or that we found canines could actually do more efficiently. While there are some magnificent examples of highly trained human trackers, a bloodhound’s nose is hard to beat.

But the tables have turned. Societal shifts have opened our eyes to explore our world through a different lens. We are more empathetic towards animals, their needs, and have turned our perspectives from being “master’s of the universe” to welfare minded “caretakers” (…this may be a generalization as there are still far too many people who either ignore or refuse to believe this, but that is a topic for another blog). We have begun to explore the possibilities not by what they can do for us, but rather what we can simply learn from them by taking a step back and looking at the world through their eyes.

We have come to understand that not all animals, especially dogs, are created equal. There is an unexplored intelligence that we are just beginning to uncover and attempt to understand. While being humans, we are still confined to understanding intelligence by how we have defined it, we are still uncovering many aspects of canine life that we once thought was completely untrue, or impossible.

I thought an easy way to share some of the ways that canines are amazing us, and showing just how intelligent they are, would be to group these concepts into areas we as humans tend to think about intelligence, and share some amazing links to some stories to demonstrate these areas.

Nose Work

Nose Work

Scent (nose) Intelligence:

This has been linked with canines for a long, long time. Helping on hunts, detecting predators lurking just outside our camps, canine olfaction has always been considered one of their strong suites. Imagine telling someone 30 years ago that scientific research would be able to show that they are actually so intelligent in this way, that they could in fact act as more reliable early warning detection systems for particular cancers than some of our best “man-made” medical equipment. Don’t believe me? Check out these links:

http://www.dogsdetectcancer.org/

http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/nbec.2014.13.issue-1/nbec-2014-0003/nbec-2014-0003.xml (sorry, you can only access the abstract without purchase).

Google Search: Canine Cancer Detection, or Google Scholar: Canine VOC detection and then pick “since 2014” for the newest articles.

Verbal Intelligence:

Immediately one thinks “dogs don’t speak words, so how can they have a verbal intelligence!?”. Well canines bark, and these barks do mean something. Canines also have a very important, and complex body language that they use to “silently” speak to one another. They can ALSO read our body language and what we are doing and interacting with! Furthermore, canines are great listeners (OK, most of the time :)), and have an incredible ability to understand human language… now imagine living in a world where this is going on all the time!! That is some serious thinking power!

Vocabulary:

Chaser the Border collie has the same understanding of vocabulary as a three-year-old child:

http://www.amazon.ca/Chaser-Unlocking-Genius-Knows-Thousand/dp/0544102576

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi8HFdPMsiM

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-smartest-dog-in-the-world/

Body Language:

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/canine-body-language

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0035437

Auditory:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201211/how-dogs-bark-in-different-languages (a neat article in how dogs bark in different language courtesy of one of my Master’s Degree Professors, Stanley Coren)

What Did You Say!!?

What Did You Say!!?

Visual Intelligence:

People used to think of dogs as completely colour blind, but this is not true. We learnt at Bergin University that canines are dichromatic, not trichromatic, so to say they are colour blind is a misnomer. Canines can see colours in the environment; they just see them slightly differently than we do. Stan Coren writes:

“Instead of seeing the rainbow as violet, blue, blue-green, green, yellow, orange and red, dogs would see it as dark blue, light blue, gray, light yellow, darker yellow (sort of brown), and very dark gray. In other words, dogs see the colors of the world as basically yellow, blue and gray. They see the colors green, yellow and orange as yellowish, and they see violet and blue as blue. Blue-green is seen as a gray”. Reference: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/200810/can-dogs-see-colors).

One thing that Bergin University is demonstrating is that canines are capable of a form of reading. While not scientifically demonstrated how this occurs this video will get your grey cells working trying to figure out how they can look at a cue card and understand what it means without any auditory reinforcement by the trainer in the later stages of their training! AMAZING!! (I LOVE MY SCHOOL!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Egvz_dZ1qv4 (this is an older video… facility has changed (now for three years).

Physical Intelligence:

While I alluded to canine’s inability to open jars earlier (not having opposable thumbs will do that), they do have an amazing ability when it comes to their physicality and using it in intelligent ways. Anyone (like myself) who has worked within Service Dog organizations can certainly attest to this. The ways that they are able to help out it truly amazing!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-WrDMxw_mY – Turning on a light switch (Sae can sure raise her voice up high!! What Excitement!! All students at Bergin work with canines training for full service certification).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbFISCnTQgc -learning to pull a wheel chair at Bergin’s new facility.

http://vimeo.com/52965741 -Zoom Learning to recycle bottles (this was early on in my Master’s Program). We are required to teach our own dogs a higher-level job by shaping and linking smaller instructions together.

With all this said, I must also put in a disclaimer. These changes to our mindsets have gotten us excited, and the media excited, to seek out and find out more about canine intelligence. It is important that we continue forward with an open mind, but also be careful not to jump to any conclusions before we are able to match our gut feelings with rigorous studies that either approve or disprove particular theories and ideas. This isn’t to say that these intelligences we witness don’t exist, we just need to put our thinking caps on to determine how we can accurately measure and record. Our canines are truly amazing. They offer emotional and physical support, they can help us live longer, and they always seem to bring a smile to our faces. I am a firm believer that we are just beginning to truly understand our canines, so next time you are looking into your dogs eyes wondering what they are thinking, just know, they are looking right back at you, and might be wondering the same thing. -J

Be Prepared: Canine “Bug-Out” Bags

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Zoom's Bug Out Bag!

              Zoom’s Bug Out Bag!

Earlier this week, Napa County and surrounding areas in northern California had a very shocking and terrible experience. An earthquake, which peaked at a 6.0 magnitude, shook houses, wrecked property and was reported to cause injuries to a number of people – all in the middle of the night. My heart goes out the families and businesses of Napa and Sonoma counties who were affected. It was a wonderful home and community to be welcomed into for our three years there, and I know the good people of NorCal are, if anything, survivors!

Waking up to a strong act of Nature such as an earthquake doesn’t offer any time to pack or prepare to leave for safety. The surprise factor is unfortunately part and parcel of most natural disasters. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes are very real possibilities in our lives and, while we do not often have much warning, there are a few things we can do to prepare now for the potential of worse to come.

The Napa earthquake hit close to home for me as, just months ago, we would have been living in one of the affected areas. It got me thinking about my emergency preparedness for my family, including my canine. Many people talk about “bug-out” bags, or bags purposely packed with supplies and important documents that are ready to grab and go when emergencies hit. We often put cash, medication, clothes, water and snacks in a bag so we have the basic items to help get us through power outages, closure of stores and banks and a lack of fresh water. Many will think this might be overkill, but for those that have been in disaster situations, a “bug-out” bag can be a lifesaver.

There is no reason that we can’t apply this same preparedness for our canines. Creating a basic “bug out” bag for our pets can and will decrease stress in already stressful situations. The last thing anyone needs during an emergency is to be running around trying to find your canine’s food or medication. Since Canines By Design’s focus is dogs, the below list is specific for them. However, there is no reason that these concepts cannot be applied to other species we have in our households. Here is what I’m putting in Zoom’s bug-out bag:

  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. 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 bowls.
  5. An extra leash and harness in case you can’t get to the part of the house where you normally keep these items.
  6. Medical records: Have a printed 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 to help treat any injuries that could have been sustained during a natural disaster.
  8. Blanket: This can help keep your dog warm and can also help you treat shock or hypothermia if needed.

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.