"...the more we learn the more we see that other animals are smarter and more creative than we give them credit for, or perhaps ever imagined. Best to keep an open mind about the cognitive skills of the animals with whom we share our homes and the rest of the planet for "surprises" are continually forthcoming. " Marc Bekoff


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Celebrating FRESH STARTS and our dog's UMWELT

Oh the joys of starting fresh!  I have spent the last 3 yrs making Calgary my home. 

I put all my focus into studies and the beginnings of a new career direction which have had our fun dog sport events on the back burner.

I am now in the early planning stages of finding like minds who have furry companions who are misfits in the Calgary area.

People who are into enjoying casual outings with their pals.  Participating in activities that enrich their relationships and celebrate a dog's umwelt. 

I read a book by Alexandra Horowitz years ago that peaked my curiosity to learn more about enrichment activities that not only celebrate a dog's natural instincts but also deepen our relationship with them.


I enjoy being outdoors with my dogs and love meeting people in like circumstances.  I have 3 senior dogs (14 and 11 year old beagles and a 7 year old Aussie) who all have special needs of some sort.

They are not dog park dogs. There are many other groups for those exuberant personalities but not the focus of my intentions.  Misfits come in all shapes and sizes and age groups.  My intention is to welcome those who need a quieter,  slower pace or a little space...

My dogs are trained for informal scent work, agility, tricks and games which were the building blocks of our relationship.  I am not interested in competitive sports or events.  I am interested in exploring and developing relationships through sports and games.

I would love to find like minds who are interested in meeting up a couple times a month.  Starting off with a Meet Up group first then see where it takes us.

If you are interested in keeping tabs on what I'm planning for June 2016, please feel free to leave a comment below describing a little about yourself, your pooch and the types of adventures you are hoping to find others to enjoy with. 


Katherine and my little misfits (whom I love to bits)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Retractable leashes...not so bad afterall

I've been hog-tied, clothes-lined, tripped, dragged, rope burned and scared to death by retractable leashes YET, I have found them to be very useful and enjoyable in some situations!


* I clip the leash up to a back harness.  I like "walkeez" harnesses, they're padded and we use them for scent work as well.   I don't like the idea of leash pressure when a leash is attached to any neck, front clip or head collars.  PLUS it's less likely for the line to get snagged on things if it's clipped on to their backs.

*After a frightening experience, I practiced letting go of the handle and having it drop to the ground = my dogs stop and recall back to me.  I had to desensitize all of us from the experience.  It's a terrifying feeling when the handle has broken loose out of my hand.  Watching it bouncing in the air, zipping up the line, the sound of catching up behind my dogs  and me unable to stop it from  hitting them in the butt...it's a not so funny scenario when your dog takes off trying to escape the crazy leash.  It is plain dangerous and has scared the bijibbies out of us.

I gradually paired the scary event with a recall back to me for a load of treats, or we've played ball, frisbee or one of favourite games.  Now I don't have to worry about them racing away trying to escape the "posessed" retractable leash.

*I've taught my dogs to walk politely beside me whether on leash, off leash, or on the back clip harness, despite all the distractions going on around us.  I can also direct my dogs to any side via verbal cue or hand signal.  Left side, right side, in front, behind, around...comes in handy let me tell you!

* My dogs have a super duper recall, in the face of a variety of distractions on and off leash.  Other dogs, people, garbage, wildlife, dead and decaying stuff.  Is it 100%...nope!  BUT I'd say they're pretty darn close.  Being aware of what may be lurking in the tall grass or on trails is key to keeping my dogs safe.

Reading their body language when they're more interested in flipping me the paw than enthusiastically recalling back to me is key to how much leash they get that day ;)  Knowing when to have them walk close by verses having full run and extending the leash is important for everyone's safety and enjoyment of their walks. 

 * I only use the retractable leash in low traffic areas.  Mainly on trails, walking from a residential area to a trail or to an open space.  I wouldn't use a retractable leash in the city on a side walk. Nor would it be a smart idea to let the leash out at that time.  I've seen WAY too many near death, off the side of the curb, or pushy retractable leash dogs ignoring another dog's request that they're not interested in the dog busting into their personal space before their owner even clues in that it's going to get ugly....it's a city by-law that your dog needs to be under YOUR control and does NOT harass others at their leisure.

I like this article by Suzanne Clothier about being an avocate for your dog and being respectful of others, not all dog want to be charge by other dogs: http://www.suzanneclothier.com/the-articles/he-just-wants-say-hi

For meet and greets, I like to call my dogs to my side first.  I'll stop about 20ft away seeing as though most retractable leashes give you 16ft of length.  Then ask and wait for the okay.   There's no point in asking if your dog is already in another dog's face.  That's plain rude.

Some people like to admire dogs from a distance, some dogs prefer hanging out with other dogs from a distance instead of getting up close and personal.  Some dogs prefer a parallel walk with distance apart.  Know your dog's greeting style preference and be an advocate for him.  It's only kind and respectful to do so.

I like this article from The Bark.  It's not fair to assume everyone wants your dog in their face:  http://thebark.com/content/coming-your-town-soon-rising-animosity-dogs-and-their-people
*If you have met another person with as happy go lucky dog who LOVES to zip in up close too...I like to use the 6 o'clock, 12 o'clock leash dance technique to keep me from feeling like I'm playing a game of "Twister".

Taking a moment to talk through the steps to the leash dance will help the humans keep the leashes from tangling, so that the happy go lucky dogs that MUTUALLY want to say hello... can do so and won't feel trapped.

Taking the time to ensure your dog understands how to politely, and safely walk with you on a retractable leash, means that you'll enjoy years together out and about, instead of their lives being cut short running into traffic and being killed.  That or being a nuisance to other dogs or tripping up someones' training.

Be kind and respectful of everyone's right to enjoy a relaxing walk out and about with their furry pals without it being crashed by your out of control dog.





Monday, July 8, 2013


Being specific and consistent about the cues, word or string of words I use to communicate with my dogs, not only streamlines their understanding of what's taking place but also alleviates frustration in OUR relationship.

Most of our social interactions I taught by luring, capturing, rewarding, reinforcing and then assigning verbal cues to specific behaviours. Those specific behaviours are now preferable to them, performed automatically for the most part, and are no longer in need of my verbal two cents worth :)

ie. Jumping up is less likely to occur now that Keegan, my Aussie, realizes that in social situations, if he keeps "four on the floor", he gets a body massage from whomever he is interacting with.

Mind you when my dogs are excited, or aroused, there are occasions  however, where it doesn't hurt to provide a verbal reminder. Some of my cues are one word, some are words strung together.  What is consistent is the way I've chosen the words and taught them.

Three things I've been taught to keep in mind when choosing a verbal cue:

1- THINK of cues as muscle movements.

Not all cues are muscle movements but for starters, most of the basic "obedience" cues are.  Before you assign a word as a cue, take a moment to visualize which body parts and muscles are involved to perform the specific behaviour. Does the word reflect the behaviour?

ie;  My cue "back" means to physically move backwards.   Whether it's "back" away from the toy, couch, person, dog, cat, bone, garbage...they understand that they need to move away from whatever is in front of them. 

I would not use the cue 'back" if they had something in their mouth and I wanted them to give it up...in that case I taught them to "give", place whatever they have in their mouth, into my hand.

2- The SOUND of the word and inflection in your voice is important!  I like to choose words that sound crisp if ACTION is required, or on the flipside, a soft and soothing sound if I'm trying to keep things CALM.   All depends.  I also take note how the dog responds to the sound.  Some sounds evoke different reactions in my dogs.  Consider their input as well.

ie. My emergency recall word is "WHOOOHOOO!!!"   I sound it as if I just won the lottery.  The sound of my voice is loud and enthusiastic and I draw the words out.   In turn my dogs respond by disengaging with whatever has their attention and come bolting towards me at mach speed.  

A dog that disengages from the interesting, fun, smelly, adventure they are enjoying; inorder to recall to me, is like winning the lottery in my mind!

On a side note, if you sound grumpy, curt or frustrated when you teach the cue (word), and reward, reinforce their decision to perform the behaviour when you use that tone of voice, you are setting yourself up for them to wait for that grumpy voice BEFORE they choose to respond accordingly.

Once I've thought of a word, sound, cue to describe the muscle movement,  the last thing I consider is to;

3-REVIEW my list of established cues to check to see if the word I've chosen sounds like any other used to describe a behaviour. 

The tricky part is to try NOT to have words sound similar for each different behaviour.

ie.  I taught my dogs to "bow" after having taught them to "down".   And I got a 'bow" half the time I asked for a "down" and vice versa :)

I then changed bow to "ta dah" and poof! No more confusion on my dog's part!  "ta dah' means bow, "down" means body to the ground.

Communication is a two way street. I'm ALWAYS watching to see what their response is to my cuing. I think it's only fair that if I'm the one asking something specific of them, that I put the time in to teach it so they are clear, and enthusiastic to oblige.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Moving Tips & Home Alone

Home ALONE and MOVING tips for worry warts...Two of my guys, George and especially Keegan,  have a tough time being left alone in new spaces and changes in my daily life routine. 

Even though they've had years of practice, it's still something,  I am very aware, is tough emotionally on them.

Good news is we have a routine that I keep consistent in each new space.  This helps me keep my sanity and helps their bodies get used to the change.

Remember that anxiety is really a whole whack of chemicals shooting through your system, shots of adrenaline racing through your body, screaming that something's not right...act now!

I learned that from Dr.Patricia McConnell's book "For the Love Of A Dog" years ago and it keeps things in perspective for me.

I definitely suffer from those same feelings when I'm panicked or anxious about something.  Sometimes it's not always a feeling I can talk myself out of either.  I have come to rely on friends and family, my support system, to help me work things through.   Being in tune with your and the dog's body language is key to understanding what you need to do to help them out.

Whether it's going on vacation and taking the dogs with me:  road tripping,  staying in cabins, car camping, overnight at friends places or moves to new living spaces,  changes in routine...a house guest, a visitor/s, new job, new housemate...new furniture...some dogs just have a really tough time with change of any sort.

In my case this year I've moved from a house with yard in Squamish, to an apartment, no yard, in Vancouver.  Then recently I roadtripped it to Calgary and on our way,  stayed in a cabin.  Our final destination was Calgary last week, and I am now living in a basement suite.  All these changes within in the course of a year.  I'm fine with it...Keegan,  no matter how many bonus' there are to the changes, has a tough time if I leave him in a new space, situation or environment.

Our latest challenge was my move from Vancouver to Calgary just this past week.

What's helped is:

1- DAP diffuser.

2-Naturpet Home Alone remedy (drops on food),  we also had success with Vet's Best Comfort & Calm but just so happened that when I went to get a refill it was out of stock, so I bought the Naturpet which is proving just as effective.

3-Making sure they are tuckered out or spend time relaxing, walking, playing outdoors, hunting for kibble, or bike ride and then having time to relax with me (while I check email) PRIOR to my departure.   If I were to exercise Keegan then shove him in a kennel I'd come home to a shredded kennel.  Secondly, to truly tucker Kee out I'd need to run him off leash in the woods for atleast 5 hours.  Even then, I need a cool down period as his body, once aroused and chemicals pumping,  will take ATLEAST an hour to cool down and get to a level where he's truly relaxed.  KNOWING how long your dog's body takes to calm from exercise is VERY important when you are leaving an anxious dog alone.

4-My departure means Daizy n Keegan get to hang out in their cozy Kennels, George in his pen, which are filled up with bully sticks, kongs of all shapes and sizes, for them to enjoy then settle themselves with until my return.

5-Engage your parents, landlords, friends, neighbors...whomever is within hearing range when you leave and all heck breaks loose!  This behavioural challenge requires loads of patience, creative thinking and compassion on everyone within hearing range's part. It takes time to figure out what will work to help relax and make your dog feel secure in the new routine, environment or situation.  Let people know you're trying your best.  Some neighbors, friends, family will offer or are happy to help out!  Ask them!  

That's my checklist.

At first my departures are short in duration, quiet when I leave, quiet when I return.  I do not return if at all possible if I hear a demand bark.  I'll wait for a quiet moment, BUT I will return if the vocalization is distressed.  That would be my RED flag that I made the error and was away for too LONG a period of time.   My goal is keep time away short at first so their bodies get used to me leaving and coming back, without showing signs of stress.  Looking for signs as if they're saying..."hey you're back...I'll be with you after I finish my kong or chewing my bone, or after I'm done my nap".   I try to be mindful of coming back when they are relaxed and doing their own thing.  I'm happy if they stop to let me know that they're glad I'm home, it's the distress that I try to avoid triggering.  There's a difference.

The time required to ensure I've met their emotional, physical needs PRIOR to my departure means their transition will be easier.  For my guys the first week is the toughest, but over the course of a month their bodies will relax into a routine, and they'll find comfort in that.  Ensuring I meet their physical, and emotional needs prior to my departure, I'll be able to fade the use of stuffed kongs, and kennel.  Instead of providing them at departure time in their kennels, they'll enjoy them before hand, then rest where ever they please until my return.   That's my countdown.  Every dog will be different. 

Being compassionate, honest and aware of the early anxiety they express is key to avoiding full blown disaster.   I have seen first hand where a dog (foster and my own) have been in such emotional distress that they have lashed out,  trying to escape the "feelings", and have left a path of destruction.  I have also experienced what it's like to walk into a room and the smell the distress.  It's real.  I couldn't imagine being that out of my mind afraid for my safety.  It NOT something I'm certain any dog or person would WILLFULLY choose to experience.  Anyone thinking they do these things out of spite; you need to learn more about the BIOLOGY of fear and anxiety.

Early warning signs of anxiety leading to distress for me with Keegan are; he will be settled, chilled out and relaxed somewhere in the room, eyes closed, while I go about my business.

Then when he notices me walking towards the door, he will get up, and charge over to me....no lazy meandering...he will race to get to me before I reach for the door knob.

By the time he gets to the door, he will begin to whine and pace around me, his mouth will open and start to pant, lines on the side of his face.  While he may look like he's smiling and dancing...hopeful that I'll be picking up his leash so he can accompany me, I know that's not the case.

All that may seem harmless, just a "happy, hopeful dog".   BUT I know in my case that vocalization will escalate to barking and howling and that destruction from the feeling of being trapped inside WILL occur should I ignore those signs.   I am very aware at the early signs that his body is becoming aroused and I KNOW he needs my help to work through settling those "feelings" of distress prior to my departure.

The freedom for me in the long run,  to leave with peace of mind that they are relaxed and content on their own,  is  WELL worth the effort I put in.  Ensuring they have a place where they feel safe and secure,  knowing that they can kick back, chew and rest up because I'll be home soon.

Two of my  favourite reading Home Alone Resources are:
Dr. Patricia McConnell - I'll Be Home Soon
James O'Heare - Separation Distress and Dogs

There's so much you can do to figure out a relaxation protocol for your worry wart.  It does start with understanding body language, the biology of fear, anxiety, distress, and of course requires creative thinking and your time to help them work through this.

I've listed only a sample of what works for me.  If you need help, and are located in the Vancouver, BC area, give DOGSmart.ca a shout!  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Time for me and my crew

Fyi...I've moved to Vancouver!

Me and my crew have a couple trials coming up!

We're very very excited about this and are taking the time to train for a change!



Monday, April 30, 2012

My Daizy Girl

To anyone out there with a reactive dog, a dog who needs your help and support to work through social interactions, don't give up. 

Daizy and I have worked through so many challenges.  I love that she now shares her knowledge with other dogs.

Daizy was such a wonderful sidekick on Sunday,  helping out with a private session.

She's one of three; how lucky can one girl be :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ARE you READY for BUSY trails?

Kee and I had just parked and I started to video for an upcoming class, when my focused Kee heard (before I did) two girls come up from a trail behind my car...

Seeing his interest peak with his ears perking up, and a Lookie Lou dart ahead to try and get a better look was my cue to help him out. I worked Keegan using cues and handsignals while acknowledging the girls and their interest in saying hello to Kee. The art of multi-tasking!

It was nice that the girls held back and asked first.  It gave me time to make sure Kee was interested in meeting them, not worried, before I said his magic cue to visit and "Say Hello".

My guys rely on me to help keep them safe and out of trouble.  I was proud of Kee.  He held back his excitement to bolt ahead and investigate and waited for his cue to visit.  I used a happy voice, no need to get stern or grumpy, clear direction and hand signals as a back up when I noticed he needed help.

That's just the way we roll :)