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Author Archives: Ottawa Canine School

Board & Train

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If you google “Board & Train“, you’ll find everything from compelling reasons why it’s a brilliant idea to strong deterrents aimed at showing why it’s a waste of your hard earned money.

When you are dealing with challenging behaviours, the thought of sending your dog to a professional sounds delightful. You are likely exhausted, possibly at wit’s end, maybe even wondering how much longer you can keep going on. Sometimes, a little respite in the form of “Board & Train” or “Doggy Bootcamp” is all we feel we need to get that second wind.

I often think that Board & Train is a bit like a rehab facility. The client does quite well while he or she is in their new environment. I’ve had clients where the problematic behaviour never happened when the dog was in my home… It’s not because I have any magical powers, but what I don’t have is the same history with the dog.  Also, the environment is set up in a way that makes success easier to achieve because the dog is not surrounded by his or her usual triggers.

Because dogs don’t generalize very well, what they learn at “rehab” will not necessarily translate to their home life. Once the dog returns to their usual environment, if the family hasn’t learned how to keep the momentum going and hasn’t also changed, then the behaviour is likely to come roaring back after a few days.

Many board and train facilities offer a transfer session, where the lessons are transferred to the client. This is an important step in helping the lessons stick.

How long does board and train usually last? I’ve seen them range from 2 weeks to 2 months. Sometimes even longer. Ethically, we cannot put a timeline or deadline on when a dog will be “fixed”. Just because you gave someone 2 weeks and a lot of money doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog is also on the same timeline. We can’t force, push, stress your dog so that it learns faster. We won’t. In fact, we have moved away from offering Board and Train, in favour of Doggy homeschool.

We believe that if a dog is mostly trained in his or her own home, the lessons will stick better.

Stay tuned, the next post will be all about our newest service: Doggy Homeschool!

If you are going to entertain the idea of sending your dog to boarding, or doggy bootcamp, then make sure you understand which methods will be used, as well as the consequences of those methods. If you are looking for recommendations for excellent, ethical, effective board and train solutions, I would have happy to send you a list of trusted trainers.

TRAUMA & PTSD

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I’m sorting through binders and binders of notes taken at various conferences I attended in the last decade. Some of the information is now dated and some is still quite relevant.

I stumble upon notes taken during a talk by Dr. Patricia McConnell. Her topic was about trauma and PTSD in dogs. She goes into quite a bit of detail about how dogs can suffer from PTSD, what that looks like and what we can do to help these dogs.

I reread these notes carefully, thoughtfully, and with a new appreciation for how close she was to the subject. What I didn’t know, back when I heard her speak, was how that topic was close to her heart. In her latest book The Education of Will, Dr. McConnell opens up and shares her own trauma, how she suffered from PTSD and how her dog Will was her partner throughout it all. Will, she discovers, also knew what it was like to startle easily, to be tense and on edge, to have difficulty sleeping, to be emotionally numb and to experience anxiety. 

Those that have reactive dogs, will likely relate quite well to Will !

It’s one of those rare books that allow you to come close to understanding what a dog is going through. And not in a Disney Movie kind of way, but from the perspective of a highly trained, highly skilled dog trainer and professional behaviourist. Plus, it’s a riveting, compelling read.

Here’s more about Dr. Patricia McConnell’s journey that she shares in her book.

PS: Not 24 hours after writing this blog, I have learned that Willie has metastatic pulmonary adenocarcinoma. Dr. Patricia McConnell shares this news with all of us on her blog

Here is an excerpt:

I am sorry to have to tell you that Willie, my Silly Billie Willie Boy, has metatastic pulmonary adenocarcinoma. Lung cancer. Chemo might slow its progression, but can’t cure it. Surgery isn’t an option.

I thought you would want to know. So many of us here have become a close village of dog lovers, and have followed each other’s dogs for years. Many of you have read about Willie’s challenges in The Education of Will. I didn’t want to blindside you with the end of his life, which is predicted to come in two to six months. In my experience, people don’t want to be protected, they want to be informed.

Read more here

What does REACTIVE mean?

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You’ve heard folks talk about their reactive dog. Maybe you’ve spotted our Reactive Rover class while perusing our class offerings. Perhaps you’re more familiar with the term “Feisty Fido” or, perhaps, you really don’t know what a reactive dog is.

A reactive dog is not necessarily an aggressive dog

Reactivity is a behaviour and manifests itself as an overreaction to stimuli. That stimuli may be a person, another dog a specific breed or colour of dog, a noise, a movement (things with wheels!), men with beards or a combination of all of the above. This reactivity may be an inherited trait, a product of their environment or even a learned behaviour.

Some breeds are designed to react quickly. Think of the German Shepherd Dog, for example. Reactivity is a benefit for detection. Many working dogs wouldn’t be as effective if they weren’t wired to react quickly to all manner of stimuli ! Can you imagine a herding breed who doesn’t react quickly to its environment ? Reactivity can be an important ingredient for working dogs and sporting dogs.

Most of the reactive dogs we work with at the Ottawa Canine School, however, are easily excited and frustrated. In fact, many times I’ve heard folks tell me that their dog is really friendly! Rover is just pulling them towards the other dog. In some cases, this is true: the dog is over excited and anxious to get to the other dog. Others, on the other hand, have learned that lashing out gets them the space they crave. The dog lunges and barks as an attempt to make the scary thing go away. In both cases, the behaviour is usually unwanted.

Some dogs learn that barking and lunging can make the scary thing go away!

Hemingway, our Great Dane, would never hurt a fly. He was kind and gentle but boy-oh-boy was he a project ! At the sight of another dog, he would leap in the air, drag me towards the other dog while barking incessantly. If the thought of a 140 lb dog bouncing and barking towards you isn’t scary enough, imagine Great Dane sized drool flying around his head. After an “episode”, I’d literally have to wipe all the drool off of his face. He was excitable and had little impulse control. One trainer, after meeting Hemi, told me “He is SO RUDE.”. I knew I had my work cut out for me, and work hard we did. I am proud to say that Hemi responded well to training and became a joy to walk in the neighbourhood. He became a more polite dog that didn’t get carried away by his emotions.

My other dog, Everest, is a very different dog. He likes his space and would never try to excitedly drag me over to go see another dog. His behaviour towards other dogs changed (and not for the better) after a specific incident and he started barking in a threatening and unfriendly manner when he saw large dark coloured dogs. Today, he very rarely reacts to another dog being in his space. I manage his environment and, every chance I get I reinforce that other dogs mean good things happen. The last time we were at the veterinarian’s office, for example, we played a game where every time he looked at another dog then looked back at me, he got a piece of tasty kangaroo (his favourite!).

Context is key

The tricky part is that some of these reactive behaviours are normal canine behaviours. Is the dog barking or is the dog reactive? Is the dog friendly and enthusiastic or is he reactive? How can we tell ? The answer is to look at the context of when the behaviour happens. It is normal for a dog to get all excited when he sees a squirrel. It is not normal, however, for my dog to bark incessantly when he sees a 10 year old child. It is normal for my dog to bark excitedly in a flyball tournament. It is not normal for my dog to bark and lunge at other dogs I pass by on the street. Context is key.


New Curricula ! One curriculum, two curricula

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“Our Puppy Classes are built with you and your puppy in mind, using science-based methods and inspired by the latest research on puppy training.”

We are proud and excited to offer you a brand positively spanking new Puppy Kindergarten curriculum.  You spoke, we listened! and now, our puppy classes boast a thoroughly redone format and updated content.

When we first started offering puppy kindergarten classes, over a decade ago, the course itself was about 4 weeks long and it was for all dogs 6 months or less. Fast forward to today, and our puppy classes have been extended to a 6 week course and, inspired by a seminar given by Dr. Ian Dunbar highlighting the importance of separating the younger puppies from the older puppies,  a Puppy Kindergarten I and a Puppy Kindergarten II were created . What a difference that made! The puppy who has done 12 weeks of classes had become a pro at learning and had impressively advanced skills.

In the last 6 months or so, we noticed that it was time for another big change. After researching the newest literature, exploring articles and webinars offered by the PPG (Pet Professional Guild) and reading various positive reinforcement training articles, it seems that puppy training is moving towards more relationship, trust and confidence building, enrichment, and prevention of fear/anxiety.

We have been collecting your feedback, conferred with the trainers and rewrote the entire curriculum for Puppy Kindergarten 1, Puppy Kindergarten 2 AND we created a Puppy Kindergarten 3. Our brand new Puppy Kindergarten III class promotes confidence building. Dog sports and brain games are introduced. Your puppy will be introduced to tricks, fitness, agility, nose work, clicker training, and Puppy Manners 3. Discover your dog’s hidden talent! All activities are adjusted for puppies so they are safe and positive.

Our Puppy Kindergarten III program includes off-leash playtime to allow your puppy to further develop his or her social skills. In fact, all of our puppy classes include off leash play.

Also, as a bonus participating in any of Puppy Kindergarten classes you get  access to our private Puppy Playdates!  What a great way to promote healthy play! We have puppy playdates for all age groups, from the junior to the teenage puppy.

Allow me to take a moment to thank Dr. Angie Yong, the trainer whose dedication and bright mind contributed greatly to these newly redesigned curricula. She is not only a brilliant trainer, but she has a Ph.D in psychology. Our Puppy Classes are built with you and your puppy in mind, using science-based methods and inspired by the latest research on puppy training.

Soundproofing

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A year ago, between Christmas and New Year, the Ottawa Canine School moved into its new location. Our new location is still on St. Laurent blvd. 401 B St. Laurent, to be exact, and is literally just the building next to where we used to be. It’s got a bigger training space, a smaller reception area and best of all, a fenced outdoor space!

We are loving our new location and absolutely love having Full Cycle as our neighbours once again.  It’s like being back home again 🙂

As with any new space, it does take a bit of time to get really acquainted with it and get adjusted to everything from where the light switches are, to how the space feels and sounds. Though I did expect to have to do some soundproofing, (because the ceilings are 2 storeys high!!!), we were still a bit surprised by how the sound reverberated in the room and the acoustic challenges of the space.

I’m going to be honest, it was hard to teach and after teaching a few classes, I felt like my ears and head needed a bit of a break. The clients commented on it as well and though most were very patient, we knew that we could not ignore this and quickly set out to do some research. Luckily, our trainer Alana had been a sound engineer in New York City in a previous life, so she had some wonderful advice. We installed some absorbing soundproofing panels on the wall, which made a difference but it wasn’t enough.

We did more research and contacted all of the local soundproofing “gurus”in town. Our first pick, Mike of Acoustic Panels Ottawa was the only one who responded. Mike came by to check out the space, made recommendations, and a month later he was hard at work installing custom made soundproofing panels!

Soundproofing panels going up!

A total of 9 acoustic panels were installed

You spoke, we listened… and now we can hear you even better!

Why you should become a dog trainer

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1. You love dogs. You are that person, no matter where you are: you seem to find dogs and they seem to find you. You’re an avid reader and of course have read a lot about your canine friends. But still, it’s not enough. You want to know why they do the things they do. Why does your dog lick the couch, bark incessantly, or whine all the time? These are the kind of questions you want answers to!  Good news! As a dog trainer, you get to be surrounded by dogs on a daily basis.  If you’re having a bad day, just sit in on a puppy class. It’s fun to watch, but even more fun to teach! Oh how I love to see those little ones learn and bloom.  Interacting with dogs every day, no matter how old they are, is a pretty sweet gig.

2. You enjoy variety. If you like to do the same thing everyday, you can certainly set your schedule up that way, but if you enjoy variety, this is your gig. From puppy training to helping folks with potty training, dog training covers an extremely wide spectrum. That is what keeps it fun and exciting. Sometimes, especially if you do one-on-one private training, you will enjoy working with a variety of people and their dogs. It’s entertaining, stimulating, enriching and, at times, extremely touching.

3. You like to be the master of your schedule. If you feel as though you lack some control over how your day goes, you will find little of this kind of stress in dog training. You can set your hours, determine how many days a week you want to teach, decide how many group classes vs. private training classes you will do, and when you will do them. You are your own boss, my friend. Don’t get me wrong here. You will work hard and it won’t always be rainbows and lollipops, but I can tell you that although I work hard, I’ve never felt so free.

4.You love to learn. I can’t imagine ANY career where you just feel you have learned enough and know it all. The dog training industry is no different. There is so much to learn and so many incredibly talented, intelligent, compassionate, vivacious people to learn from. Lets not forget the exciting conferences held in enticing locales. I’ve travelled throughout Canada and the US to attend conferences that have had a huge impact on how I approach training. Continuing education in the dog training world is fun, practical and sometimes pretty mind blowing.

5. You enjoy being kind to animals and to people. An enriching, exciting, wonderful career awaits you if you enjoy working with both sides of the leash.  Being patient, kind and innovative goes a long way with both dogs and their handlers. It’s not enough, I’m afraid, to just love dogs. You must also enjoy working with people.

Interested in learning more about becoming a dog trainer?  

Check out our certification program and change your life!

Trick or treat!

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Treat
[/trēt/ Noun:  Something that gives great pleasure. An act of providing something for somebody else at one’s own expense]

When you think of the word treat, what comes to mind? A nice Belgian Wheat Beer? A piece of dark chocolate? A day at the Nordik Spa? All of the above?

For my dog, a treat is a cookie that he gets as part of our daily routine, an off leash romp or a simple walk in the neighbourhood. Treats, however, have no place in our training regimen. We are not offering a special rare indulgence. In fact, if we treated our dogs when training, we would find it incredibly unsuccessful.

Before you start wondering if I’m about to start promoting some unsavoury training methods, let me reassure you that we absolutely do use food, toys and fun activities in our training. We call them reinforcements and we give them to reinforce the wanted behaviour.  For example, a small piece of cheese can be used as a reinforcement for a behaviour and we must not be stingy with our training aids when our dog is learning a new behaviour.

The reinforcer is given as a consequence of the dog’s behaviour and consequently, makes him want to repeat said behaviour. The reinforcer is anything that the dog truly enjoys. It is also something that can be given quickly and enjoyed quickly  (which is why food is ideal). My dog LOVES to play in the snow, but if I used this as a reinforcement when training a new behaviour, it would not make for an ideal training session. My dog also likes a good bum scratch, but this is not as powerful as a piece of cheese.

Most trainers I know love to use food because it is quick and easy to deliver, but for some dogs, the best reinforcer is a toy. Tugs are great in training, provided your dog loves the game !

What are some of your dog’s favourite things, that you can use as a reinforcer?

Remember that CONSEQUENCES (and not cues or what we used to call “commands”) drive behaviour!

 

Turn your dog into a CHEW-A-HOLIC

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Dogs have a biological need to chew. Even though chewing is normal and healthy, it can still be a regular problem—for you and your furniture. Whether your dog is a puppy or a newly adopted grown dog, get him hooked on chew toys instead of your shoes.  Kong and Nylabone make a wide variety of durable, good quality products that can meet your dog’s chewing needs. 

Prevent mistakes. When you can’t supervise, put your dog in an enclosed, dog-proofed area with a sanctioned chewie. 

Teach good chewing choices. Dogs have texture preferences, so try to match what yours like. If he is attacking the couch pillows, try giving him plush toys. If he is eyeing the table leg, try a bone. Praise liberally when your dog chews something allowed.

Interrupt mistakes. If your dog chews the wrong thing, interrupt and trade him for something he can chew on. Praise liberally when he does.

Why I left my six-figure job

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Why I walked away from a six-figure job.

by Chantal Mills

In 2003 I was a High School Guidance Counsellor. It was what I’d aspired to become when I started my teaching career, nearly a decade earlier.  I had achieved my goal, and was living my dream by day, and obsessed with learning as much as I could about dogs by night. I couldn’t wait to spend my free time either with dogs or learning about them.

In 2004 I signed up for an expensive course to learn how to become a dog trainer. I never thought it would lead to opening a dog training business. My goal was simply to put a stop to the intense drive I had that was keeping me awake, pushing me to know everything I could about dogs. I mistakenly thought that by taking the professional dog training course, by having the information and by doing the hands-on work, it would satiate my hunger for knowledge.

In retrospect, the love of animals has always been there. Growing up, you’d find me in my neighbour’s barn, either hanging out with the horses or helping with the milking of the cows. I have pictures of me sleeping in the mud room with our dog because I didn’t want him to sleep alone. It’s a bit embarrassing but I’ll tell you anyway… I would take walks in the forest with arms outstretched, in the hopes that birds would feel welcomed to land on my arms. I talked to the animals and asked that they come out of hiding. In grade 7, I set up a phone interview with a veterinarian in Alfred, Ontario. He was very generous with his time. That conversation convinced me that I wanted to become a veterinarian.

Unfortunately, my talents lay not in math and science, and by the time I was in University, my calling to become a teacher was loud and clear. My love of animals did not disappear whilst in University. Maybe one day I’ll tell you about the time, near the end of the semester, I bought a Golden Retriever puppy and hid him in my dorm room in the hopes that I would never get caught. Trying to raise a puppy on the 16th floor of a dorm residence during exam time, all while keeping him secret, was not my best idea.  I learned a lot from that experience. Barney had a great life despite my clumsy start with him. He especially loved swimming and trying to rescue anyone else who was trying to enjoy the water.

After graduating from the Professional Dog Trainer program, my dog training career just took off. At first, my aim was to make enough money to pay myself back for the course.  Before I knew it, I was teaching group classes in a community centre. In a parallel universe, my teaching career was taking its own direction. In 2007, I  became a Vice-Principal, all while doing my dog training on the side. Here is a picture of me with my dog Everest. I’d bring him to work weekly so he could spend the day with the kids. They took him for walks and read to him. Both the kids and Everest loved it.

In November of 2009, my son was born. During my maternity leave, I opened the Ottawa Canine School.  I extended my maternity leave for as long as I could, but in the summer of  2012, I had to make a decision. I resigned from teaching.  Walking away from a job I loved, a six-figure career, a generous amount of holiday time and iron clad job security was not a decision taken lightly.

Friends and family called me “brave” and “courageous” but to be honest, I never felt any fear. I never felt as though I was being brave. The road that took me toward becoming a dog trainer was a road I could not not take. The decision to open a dog training school and jump head first into the world of business felt like the absolute right thing to do.  Going for it was not optional, it was destiny.

 

 

No doubt about it, there is a lot of work for those in the dog training industry. I once heard someone say “where there are dogs, there are problems” and I suppose for those in the dog training business, that is good news! But not everyone should become a dog trainer.

Are you wondering if perhaps a career in dog training is for you? I’ve got a little checklist for you. 

If you love animals but are not a people person, dog training is not likely to be a fulfilling career for you. If you thought dog training was about dogs, you’re right. But it’s also about helping people. In fact, I’d argue that dog training is more about people than about dogs.

Want to know more about the dog training industry and perhaps how you can go about becoming a dog trainer? Get the free guide.

We are moving!!

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In 2010, when we were first setting up the current location of the Ottawa Canine School, my son was 7 months old. We’d set up the Jolly Jumper in the middle of the room while we worked away. 👶 Andre, who is now retired from the Ottawa Canine School, worked tirelessly to help get the school ready. His wife, Donna, brought her tools and miter saw and helped us so much. 🙏 My husband, Matt, did a stellar job tidying up all the electrical panels and random wires hanging from the ceiling.

And today, we are at it again. My team is excited for the change and we are excited to bring you an even better dog school experience.💖

We went to see the space last Sunday for the first time and I snapped this picture of my son, now 8 years old, running around the floor of our soon-to-be new space. We will be putting down the same thick rubber mats that the dogs love. But in the meantime, it’s a young boy’s dream race track!

 

We are thrilled to be able to offer you a bigger space and an enclosed outdoor area! We are not going very far at all from our current location , but it will be an exciting change for all.⭐️

Our new space has had a fresh coat of paint (or two, or three…), thanks to the amazing Len of Commercial Painting and Renovations Ltd.  A BIG shoutout also goes to Cindy from Randall’s Paint for the paint colour consult and vision.

All the electrical work is now complete. Sexy LED strips have been installed thanks to Stéphane at SBL electric.

Now the next step, of getting settled in begins. Matt, hubby and behind-the-scenes support extraordinaire is already all over this. He has been the Canine School’s #1 cheerleader since its conception, in the back of my mind. I still have the card he gave me after I got my very first client. Matt stays in the background, but the OCS would NOT exist without him. I am ever grateful for his tireless, generous support.

The amazing OCS team is incredibly supportive, offering skills, time, help. We make a good team. Even trainers enrolled in the Dog Training Certification program are offering help. We will be ready, come snow, freezing rain, hell or high water, to open our NEW DOORS on January 1st.  Ok, make that January 3rd because, you know, we do need to celebrate the new year after all! And so do you!

WE ARE SO EXCITED!!!!

Here are a few pictures of the work in progress.

Even the ceiling was painted. What a job. Rubber flooring will be going down between Xmas and New Year.

 

The reception area’s inspiring view. It’s so close to the Park!

Matt, the electrical engineer, simultaneously looking at the floor he wants to redo and the electrical outlet that needs a new cover. This will be our new reception area.

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