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high park dog walkers

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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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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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