Category: Training & Behaviour

spray bottle

Most dogs have some annoying habits. We humans want them to stop as quickly as possible.

Some humans have a little handheld tool they use to stop behaviours they don’t like: a squirt bottle. A sharp spray of water in the dog’s face should stop jumping/chewing/nipping/barking pretty efficiently, right? Plus the gadget is cheap, easy to get and shouldn’t really hurt the dog, right? Well, not in my opinion.

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food dispensing toys

Dogs are natural hunters and scavengers so why are we still feeding out of a bowl? All animals need environmental enrichment, so let’s look at the simplest way to do that. Kongs are one of my favourite food dispensing toys in the world and I just happen to have over a dozen of them in my freezer at all times. West Paw also makes fantastic stuffable toys!

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black kong

Dogs are natural hunters and scavengers – they’re problem-solvers! When we bring dogs into our homes and feed them out of bowls, we’re asking them to do something that goes against what they are programmed to do…they need an enriched environment!

Food is a valuable resource – sure, it sustains life, but it can also enrich environments, create positive associations, reinforce desired behaviours, and be the source of a lot of fun. Every kibble in a bowl is the tragic loss of an opportunity for one of these things above.

Get rid of that food bowl and start enriching your dog’s environment! Give them something to DO. A mentally stimulated dog is a good dog.

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dog looking at food dispensing toy

When training our dogs, it’s crucial to consider their currency. What does that mean? How does your dog like to get paid? What do they find most reinforcing?

When we go to work, we get paid in the form of money – paycheques and monetary bonuses. If the paycheque stopped suddenly, we would question and likely stop working. Imagine if your boss sent you an envelope with Monopoly money in it on payday in place of your regular cheque!

Let’s consider some variables – sometimes the US dollar is more reinforcing than the Canadian dollar (like right now) and other times it’s the reverse. Sometimes winning a trip to Hawaii is more exciting than the equivalent in a cash prize.

When it comes to dogs, there are so many options for reinforcement out there – all you have to do is get to know your dog!

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dog with weights

If you think of the practice of dog sports as a competitive and fairly serious business, you’re only about 10 percent right. Just as in human athletic pursuits, the vast majority of dog sports enthusiasts are hobbyists; happy amateurs not much interested in ribbons or plaques. So what hooks people? The numerous benefits two- and four-legged sportsmen alike reap. For starters, a quick alphabetic inventory reveals something for every ability and temperament: agility, caniscross, disc dog, dock diving, earthdog, flyball, freestyle, herding, lure coursing, mushing, nose work, rally-o, tracking, treibball, and weight pulling. An exhaustive list would be much longer, of course, and still wouldn’t include the many fun, creative activity classes trainers, dog facilities, and dog groups might offer.

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broken piggy bank

I often imagine the dog training experience as a series of banking transactions – the visual really helps me to measure our work but also to gauge where we may have a deficit or where the dog has a need.

When we bring home a puppy, we often make a series of assumptions that can be quite harmful – how many times do we trainers hear “oh my dog is fine with that. I can [manhandle, groom, pick up, travel with, etc…] him and he doesn’t care.”. Every. Single. Day.

The challenge is this – there is a HUGE difference between tolerance and enjoyment and most of us don’t actively seek out the difference in every moment we spend with our dogs.

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black kong

Dogs are natural hunters and scavengers so why are we still feeding out of a bowl? All animals need environmental enrichment, so let’s look at the simplest way to do that. Kongs are one of my favourite food dispensing toys in the world and I just happen to have almost a dozen of them in my freezer at all times.

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dog eating

For the past year and a half I have been doing a project at a hospital in Toronto (a collaborative project with researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax) which has been a dream come true in a sense: I have been able to combine my PhD education and 15+ years of experience as a researcher in cell biology and my love of training dogs. The project is in a relatively new and emerging field, biomedical scent detection research, the purpose of which is to investigate whether dogs’ sense of smell can be used to diagnose diseases. In my case the focus is on training dogs to detect a pathogenic micro-organism which is a major concern in healthcare facilities and certain communities. I still need to be cryptic here as the study is not published as we speak, but I want to share some observations and personal thoughts that have been on my mind regarding the training aspect of it.

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Gimme That!

Husky Guarding bowl

There are many behaviours that despite domestication, dogs still exhibit. “Resource guarding” is the first that comes to mind. While ball or food obsession seems harmless to many, it can be the start of a more dangerous behaviour down the road. Resource guarding is an evolutionarily advantageous behaviour – meaning it is necessary for survival.

If you think about it, humans do it too! We lock our homes when we leave, we set alarm systems, we even put passcodes on our smartphones and passwords on our online bank accounts. If anyone tried to bypass our system, we would leap into action to protect our valuables.

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