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dog walker parkdale

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The Trouble with Kijiji (no graphic images here)

If you're here reading this, it's likely because you really love dogs. As much as you love them though, I know you sometimes get tired of hearing about certain issues faced by dogs. Probably because it's depressing. Believe me, I understand. But if you could make even a tiny dent in the online sales of puppy mill dogs, and if everyone did their small share, we could make a huge difference. Considering everything dogs do for us, it's the least we can do for them. Kijiji, an online classified website, has been facilitating the sale of dogs on their website for years, and since the beginning, we've been asking them to stop. These puppy mill operators and back yard breeders pose on Kijiji as legitimate breeders, or families giving up a beloved pet for one reason or another, even as charitable rescues. The response from a few great rescue organizations has been to "join 'em" and start listing on Kijiji as well. The hope is that someone will save a life rather than create space in a puppy mill for another dog. So please rest assured there are some great rescues listed on Kijiji. BUT they'll all be happy to see an end to dogs and puppies being listed on Kijiji.

The evils that operate puppy mills see one thing when they look at a dog, even one that is ill and suffering, and that's a dollar sign. Your mission is not only to educate, but also to sign the petition to convince Kijiji to stop allowing the sale of dogs, and to tell your story here if you have one. This issue is picking up steam so let's all run with it! Go save a life.

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Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

One of the best things you can teach your dog is to come when called. Teaching perfect recall isn’t that difficult, but when we do it incorrectly, it seems like the most impossible thing on earth.  The golden rule, in my opinion: your dog needs to associate coming to you with only the best possible things. You’re the happy and safe place when he’s uncertain of something or when he just needs to check in with you. The Don’ts:

  • One of the biggest mistakes I see in the park, especially with new puppy owners, is the repetition of the dog’s name and the command. By the 20th “Rover, come!” the dog believes this means nothing.
  • Trying to instil recall in a dog from 100 feet away is too far.
  • Not rewarding the voluntary “check in” is also a big no no.
  • Not rewarding the dog when/if he does respond to the come command is an opportunity lost.
  • Calling a dog away from play will just go further to soil the command, because chances are, he’s too caught up in the excitement to come running back.
  • Don’t become frustrated, and don’t rough-handle or yell at your dog when he returns after being elusive.

Now for the Dos of teaching recall:

  • Start from a very tiny distance, in an area with no distractions. Inside the house, to the yard, and eventually graduate to the park.
  • Reward the desired behaviour every single time with food and praise.
  • Dogs will often check in with you during play or romping. That behaviour deserves a big “yes” or “click” and a treat.
  • Dogs will sometimes elude owners because they’ve learned that every time they go to them the leash clips and it’s time to go home. Practice on every walk, right from the onset. Your dog will like the odds.
  • Use high value treats for teaching recall. Treats that you don’t provide at any other time.

I am over simplifying, and there are many more helpful articles out there, such as this one by Pat Miller. Learn the exact science behind it, and when it’s ok to start slowly phasing out treat-based rewards. At OMD we work on recall from day one, with every single dog. It keeps them safe and us sane.

Toronto Dog Walker RoncesvallesThis is Charlie, a rescue from The Toronto Humane Society. When I started walking her, I immediately realized she is mostly Golden Retriever and I couldn’t’ understand why it was like calling a brick wall. And I was terrified she was going to run away. So, I met her with her mum in High Park one Sunday. It was obvious she wasn’t the runaway type so I broke out my best treats, and we went to work. Because she’s so clearly a retriever and she aims to please, this sweet-natured gal was recalling perfectly within a week. No, it’s not always that easy, but working on this with your dog (or the dogs you walk) could save their lives one day.

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Canine Body Language - it's a real thing

When you spend a lot of time with many different dogs, reading body language becomes instinctive. Before a dog trainer friend officially educated me on the topic seven years ago, I thought I was some sort of psychic: “I just knew that fight was going to happen.” But of course dogs communicate with each other and us though body language. How else are they going to do it? Remember that video of Cesar Millan taunting Holly, the food aggressive Labrador? After she bites him he says, “I didn’t see that coming.” That line reverberated around the dog world. How could a man who is surrounded by dogs all of the time, not have seen that coming? The rest of us certainly did.

Knowing how to read your dog is fairly simple and by doing so, you can save them a lot stress, prevent fights and bites, and create a feeling of safety for them. And better communication with your dog only leads to a better relationship.

Great reading material and visual aids:

Canine Body Language in the Dog Park

Stress Signals

Calming Signals

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Feral Cat Awareness Week in Toronto

It’s Toronto's first annual Feral Cat Awareness Week. And here at OMD, we’re not just all about dogs. The fact is, feral cats are a manmade problem, so it’s up to us to fix it. One cat at a time. Yes, it's a daunting task, but if everyone does their part, we can make a huge impact. In the alley behind my house there was once a large colony of cats. With the help of Project Pet Rescue, Queen West Animal Hospital, Dundas West Animal Hospital, Annex Cat Rescue, Urban Cat Relief and The Toronto Humane Society, we’ve been able to get the population under control. All of the kittens have entered adoption programs. The adult cats were trapped with live traps and drop traps, spayed/neutered and either put back or adopted if they were actually friendly. We only have one more adult and two kittens to go.

No, it’s not easy. There’s a lot of work involved, but there are resources. It’s important that once you release the cats, you continue to feed them. Ideally you should have the colony registered with a rescue so that volunteers will add “your” cats to the daily feeding rounds.

Yep, that’s a real thing. Volunteers with designated feeding days, selflessly take time out of their own busy lives to ride around on their bikes and feed feral cats. Imagine that you're a mental health nurse, working 10-hour shifts. After which you need to feed your own cats, spend quality time with them, then walk your dogs, prepare dinner, clean the house and catch up with your spouse. THEN go feed a bunch of feral cats. If that’s not selfless, I don’t know what is. That is a real person I’m describing.

How can you help?  You can learn everything there is to know by taking a workshop with the Toronto Feral Cat Project or Toronto Feral Cat Coalition. These organizations and other rescues are desperate for foster homes and places to recover feral cats while they heal from surgery, before being put back outside. During this 7-10 day period, the cat stays inside of a large crate with food, water and litter. When his/her wound is healed, they go back “home” to where they were living. Every little bit helps, so please do whatever you can. Even if you can’t get involved, there are other ways to help.  Maybe you can build a winter shelter, or donate money, or adopt a cat/kitten.

Here are Pearl, Ryerson and Logan. All rescued from the Queen and Bathurst area, and all waiting for a home. You can apply to adopt them here.3

 

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A Difficult Lesson for Pet Sitters and Owners

twomI’ve been a professional pet sitter for ten years. I take my job very seriously, put safety first and always err on the side of caution. The story I’m about to tell is not only seemingly unreal, it’s pretty surprising that it happened to someone so diligent. A few weeks ago, one of my original clients from 2003, dropped his dog off to stay for a week, just as he had done many times before. We sat and talked for about 20 minutes, catching up and discussing their US/Canada road trip upon which they were about to embark. We also talked about Ginger’s decrease in appetite over the previous weeks, and I promised I would get her to eat. She loved eating at my house because I always made a special pot of stew (organic beef, sweet potato and carrots) just for her and served it atop her kibble. That evening, I sent them a photo of her devouring it. The next morning she did the same thing.

Two hours later, however, she threw it up and went back to her bed. That would be the last time Ginger ever stood up on her own. It wasn’t unusual for her to remain lying down for long periods of time because of her arthritis – especially if she could see you without having to change rooms. But a couple of hours later when I returned from walking dogs, I found it a little strange that she didn’t get up to greet me. An hour after that, Ginger wasn’t wagging her tail very much when we said her name. This was particularly unusual for this gleeful, bouncy lab. Once her breathing changed a little, I was concerned and wanted to bring her to the vet, or speak with her owners. Several text messages went unanswered and so off to the vet we went.

She was assessed by one of her own doctors and we were told to take her to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic and advised that we “must reach her owners.” Several more phones calls went straight to voicemail.

At the VEC we were told that Ginger had internal bleeding, likely caused by a type of tumour called Hemangiosarcoma. Four hours later and we still had not been able to reach her people. The vet was not optimistic but since she wasn’t my dog, we agreed that she should receive a blood transfusion in an attempt to keep her stable until we got word from the owners. On our way out of the clinic, I told the vet that if her condition got any worse, he must call me so that I would come and be with her.

That call came at 3 AM. Ginger was crashing and the decision was now out of our hands. We raced back to the clinic, where I signed a “permission to euthanize” agreement for a dog that wasn’t even mine. We sat with her, petted her, and kissed her face as he slipped away.

We continued to sit with her for a while longer. Before we left, I took her collar off. It was the same, and only collar she’d had for at least a decade. I held it in my lap on the way home – thoughts bouncing between grief and disbelief and wondering how I would find the words to tell her owners.

Hours turned into days, and still no phone call came from them. For five days I didn’t go anywhere without my phone, and didn’t really go anywhere at all. I even slept with it turned on. I was worried they would hear all the urgent messages we’d left, and call me back only to reach voicemail. They were scheduled to arrive home Saturday evening, so that morning, I knew that would be the day.

Those five days, and in particular, that Saturday, were gut-wrenching. The waiting was pretty unbearable; I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I just did pretty much nothing. Just sat and waited with a pit in my stomach that could stop a train.

It was not an easy conversation; no one wants to deliver this type of news. But even more difficult, was the uncertainly for Ginger and not being able to reach her owners when the problem began. I kicked myself. I always ask clients if they will be reachable, but in this case, I made assumptions. Ginger’s owners were long-time clients and things had become very casual between us.

The difficult lesson? Always have a plan and a back up plan. Clients and pet sitters should always be able to reach one another, and in the event that isn’t possible, there needs to be an emergency contact. Someone who can make a decision on behalf of the dog and feel 100% confident that it’s the right one. Fellow pet sitters, it's difficult to ask the questions, but find out what your clients wishes are. The lesson to owners is obvious; although she was with her second favourite family, her own family would have like to be with her in the end.

Ginger was like family and we miss her so much.

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Prevent Door Darting

One of the questions on my new-client questionnaire is "Does your dog attempt to dart though an open door?" I’m always careful when entering a client's home, but if the answer to that question is "yes," then careful doesn't cut it. I need to be vigilant. It’s stressful; especially since the same dogs usually try to do the same thing when the door to the Element opens. This is the first thing I teach every single new dog - they must wait until I tell them it's ok to jump out. Otherwise they would be jumping out at every new pick up and drop off spot. But what happens when it's not me or the client coming through the front door, but rather a cleaning service or a contractor? Their job isn't to mind the dog. I arrived at client's home one day, a couple of years ago and the contractor told me the dog ran out as soon as he arrived, and that he had to chase him 3 blocks to the park. This story ended "well," but they don't all, sadly.

So, read this article by Pat Miller in the Whole Dog Journal, follow the protocol and keep your dog safe.

 

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Nicole Wilde Seminar, Part 2: Dog Play - by Katie Hood

Part 2 of Nicole's day was entitled “Dissecting the Dynamics of Dog-Dog Play”. My time dog walking with Christine at oh my dog!, nerding out with other canine professionals, as well as my years of working with dogs, prepared me for this part of the seminar. I was happy to find I already possessed much of the knowledge covered and also had a few beliefs confirmed. Nicole showed lots of video of different kinds of play in a dog park ranging from happy play with lots of loose body language, to completely petrified dogs whose owners insisted they should “enjoy” the dog park experience when it was clear the only thing the dog would enjoy was leaving. Starting right at the beginning we were reminded why it's important for dogs to play – to establish social bonds, practice social skills, teach bite inhibition, and how far they can push other dogs. Nicole recommended introducing a puppy to a well tempered older dog, preferably female from her experience.

Referencing a study by Dr. Ward, play preferences in dogs was discussed. Dr. Ward videotaped puppies playing and found that the partners they preferred to play with in youth carried on as they aged. They also found that there is a same sex play preference early on, females tend to initiate with other females more often, and male puppies are more likely to handicap themselves in play to encourage the other pup to play with them.

The well known play bow was discussed and outside of being an invitation to play, it was also likened to be a doggie version of a 'lol!' Some dogs will perform a behaviour that could be taken as a threat but will follow it up with a play bow to say 'just kidding'.

Returning to the work of Dr. Ward, healthy play was discussed. It's common to believe that play should be 50/50, for example one dog shouldn't be on the bottom all the time. But in Dr. Ward's study they found in paired play the 50/50 rule did not apply. Nicole talked about different play styles, that a more hesitant/shy dog may not have the desire to be on top during play or that some dogs don't like to chase other dogs but love to be chased. Instead ensure play is healthy by noting friendly body language, that there is some give and take in the play, frequent pauses (don't let the dogs play non-stop and then whip themselves in to a frenzy), and respect for communication. If one dog tries to take a pause in play and the other continues to try to instigate, it may be time for both to have a break or end the play session. What should you watch for in play with your dog to prevent issues? Increased speed, fewer pauses, vertical play increasing instead of horizontal play, rough play increasing, low pitch vocalizations.

A round up of good facts/reminders:

- Socially awkward dogs are opportunistic (have you ever watched a dog trying to mount a dog who's mounting another dog? Awkward.)

- Keep play safe by having done solid attention work with your dog (eye contact!) and good recall.

- Monitor your dog in the park. Don't bring a newspaper or your phone and sit 20 feet away with your back to them.

- The most dangerous factor in dog-dog play is humans! Don't put your dog in a vulnerable position

If you missed Katie's write up of Part One regarding Separation Anxiety, here it is!

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The Greatest Training Treat Ever

I never thought I would find myself writing a blog entry about how amazing a certain dog treat is. But then Nothing Added came along and changed everything. Suddenly I’m that person who is way too excited about dog treats. Screen shot 2013-06-02 at 3.06.36 PM

I’m talking specifically about the “tripe” treats. I bought a bag one day and when I opened it, the smell nearly killed me, but my dogs were at attention and ready to do whatever I asked of them. <Light bulb> The tripe comes in very large pieces, so I got out the industrial scissors (regular kitchen scissors don’t have what it takes) and went to work, cutting each piece into tiny pieces and filling my treat pouch.

ANVIL CUT

Those tiny morsels of pure stench kicked our training into high gear, and our walks have turned into serene outings, and my dogs into angels <cough, cough>. Then I started brining the treats to work, continuing to work obsessively on recall with the new dogs, dodgy dogs, and puppies. Never in ten years of dog walking have I ever seen anything like it.

 

Dogs who usually aren’t food motivated, extremely fussy dogs and dogs who just don’t grasp the concept of “come” have all made great strides.

Because these treats are so, um, pungent, they flavour the other treats in your pouch, so even your boring biscuit-style treats are suddenly more valuable.

That said, I reserve the tripe for really important training like recall, “leave it,” and reducing reactivity. If you’re just training tricks or “sit,” use something else your dog likes, as this will make the tripe even more special.

Nothing Added treats are safe and made exclusively in Canada. In the Trinity Bellwoods, Queen West area I’ve seen these treats for sale at The Dog Bowl on Dundas and Timmie Dog Outfitters on Queen.

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Continuing Education To Serve You Better

Dog walking offers its challenges, but I think it’s important to stay fresh and keep learning.  I believe this is true for all professions. As part of my commitment to being a great Canine Nutrition Consultant, I work with a mentor who is a veterinary nutritionist, attend seminars on the subject whenever possible and I read books related to the topic. Recently I enrolled in the Advanced Canine Nutrition Certification course at CASI.

What’s Katie up to? She’s currently enrolled in the intense dog trainer program though the Karen Pryor Academy and apprenticing at When Hounds Fly.

So we’re both working hard and trying to be the best possible dog nerds we can be. Please forgive us if we’re a little slower than usual at responding to your calls and emails. It’s only temporary.

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A Plea on Behalf of Dogs in Toronto: "Please Leash Me"

This is a subject that hits close to home. I have two dogs who need their personal space. They don’t dislike other dogs, but park and sidewalk greetings need to be managed. They can sometimes be reactive on leash, but we’ve worked on this a lot with positive reinforcement training and the results are amazing. Walks are now much less stressful and far more enjoyable. However, as the dog population in Toronto rises, so does the number of off-leash dogs in areas where they’re not supposed to be, like sidewalks and on-leash parks. These also happen to be the areas where I need to walk my dogs, since they’re not “dog park” candidates. When we encounter off-leash dogs running up to us, it’s impossible for me to work with my dogs to manage the situation. The result is a lost opportunity for positive reinforcement and a setback in our training. Training that requires distance.

Off-leash dog owners usually defend themselves, or try to appease parents and other dog owners by loudly declaring “It’s OK, he’s friendly.” Bluntly: WE DON’T CARE. IT’S NOT OK. What the off-leash owners need to consider is that many of us have dogs that are not comfortable around strange, new dogs. They may be fearful, anxious or elderly and it’s up to us to protect them and find ways to reduce stress.

We have every right to walk our dogs on-leash in parks and on sidewalks without having to be on guard for approaching off-leash dogs. But when other owners take this right away from us, they are negatively affecting the lives of our dogs. Dogs who are sweet, loveable and deserving of a stress-free walk. Worse, they make all dog owners look bad.

I know professional dog trainers, whose dogs have perfect recall, who would not take the chances I see many Torontonians taking every day. Like the guy in the windstorm last week walking his Weimaraner off-leash down Queen Street - does he know for certain that if a sandwich board blows over and hits his dog, that he won’t bolt towards home?  Or the woman who walks her pit bull off-leash at the top of Trinity Bellwoods Park - are you kidding me? She has an obligation to protect her dog from the ridiculous BSL laws in Ontario. I could go on and on.

After too many negative experiences with his own two rescue beagles, the owner of When Hounds Fly has started a campaign: Please Leash Me. Oh my dog! is a proud supporter and I hope you will be too. Go here to download and print the poster. Display it somewhere, share it on your Facebook and Twitter pages. Read this page to gain a fuller understanding of why this is so important. Click here to view a list of campaign supporters and to add your own pet related business/organization.

Bottom line, letting your dog off-leash where you shouldn’t isn’t OK. It’s selfish.

Please Leash Me

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