Dog Parks – Yay or Nay?

A couple of things in my life have me thinking about dog parks a lot lately.  One is that I’m dog walking again, and some of my clients love running off leash but don’t have a rock solid recall.  One is that I’m on my town’s committee to design a new dog park (more on that in a later post, I’m sure).  And one is that recently I was visiting family, who had just gotten a new puppy, and they told me their trainer (who is lovely – I recommended them to her) told them not to go to dog parks with their pup.  This is actually relatively common advice in training circles – avoid dog parks.  Too many unsupervised dogs, too much chaos.  And that isn’t wrong…but I’m going to go against the grain here.  I love dog parks.  I use them.  I think my clients should too.


They can be chaos.  There can be unsupervised, badly behaved, or even aggressive dogs.  There can be neglectful owners.  There can be accidents.


How do we reconcile this with my love and support of dog parks?

By being responsible dog owners, and behaving with good dog park etiquette, and by encouraging and educating other owners to do the same.

Doberman and Bull terrier at dog park, Osoyoos BC
Athena and Hudson at the Osoyoos Dog Park

Here are my basic guidelines for good dog park manners:

1.  Pick up your dog’s poop.  Heck, if someone else didn’t, pick up some extra while you’re at it.

2.  If you bring a toy for your dog, understand that other dog’s may steal it.  Be ready to share, or don’t bring a toy.  

3.  Engage with your dog.  This is a biggy.  I cannot emphasize it enough.  If your dog is running around and you are sitting on the bench with a coffee in one hand  and your cell phone in the other, you are doing dog parks wrong.  If your dog is wandering around bored and unsupervised, they are far, far more likely to get into trouble.  Trouble may mean wandering off, it may mean eating something dangerous, it may mean getting into fights, it may mean jumping on other dog owners… whatever “trouble” looks like for your dog, the odds increase exponentially of your dog getting into it if you’re ignoring them.  Walk in circles with them, throw a stick or toy, practice tricks, have some fun!  This is time for you and your dog to bond.

4.  Be realistic about what kind of dog you have.  Another biggy.  Not all dogs are dog park dogs – and that’s okay!  If your dog doesn’t like other dogs, is aggressive, is anxious, or just ambivalent, it’s fine!  They don’t have to go to the dog park!  I promise.  So many people have this as a big goal, especially with new rescues who are reactive or anxious; “I just want her to have dog friends!”  She may not WANT dog friends.  Take your dog to the park because they enjoy it, and others enjoy having them around.

5.  Teach your dog manners (but be patient).  Teach your dog not to jump on people at the park or bully other dogs…but be patient when someone’s dog inevitably jumps on you.  It’ll happen; they’ll feel bad.  But it’s the dog park.  Don’t wear your nice coat.  (And apologize if your dog is that dog!)

6.  Scope it out and (7.) know when to leave.  Before you go into the park, look around – are there ill behaved dogs in there?  Is there a dog you know yours doesn’t get along with?  Are there people playing with toys and you know your dog is a resource guarder with toys?  Keep right on walking and come back at a better time.  Same applies to knowing when to leave.  You cannot force other dog owners to be polite or considerate, so if that owner comes in with that badly behaved dog and pulls out their cell phone, just leave.  It isn’t worth it.

8.  Be mindful if your dog isn’t fixed.  I hesitate to say you shouldn’t bring unfixed dogs to the park (although I do teeter on the edge of that sometimes), but if you have a dog who isn’t spayed or neutered, be careful.  You don’t want your dog setting all the others off, and you also don’t want unexpected puppies – there are too many in the world already.  So this ties into the previous rule; if a dog comes in who isn’t okay with your unneutered male or female in heat, just leave.  Try again later!

9.  A dog park doesn’t always equal good socialization.  Socialization – for puppies or adult dogs – is a whole other topic, but in brief, remember that socialization has to happen at a level that your dog is comfortable at.  So if you bring an aggressive dog into the dog park to socialize them and they have a meltdown and bite another dog, THAT ISN’T SOCIALIZATION.  If you bring a timid 8 week old puppy into the park and they spend the whole time hiding behind you and shaking, THAT ISN’T SOCIALIZATION.

10.  If you bring treats with you to the dog park, be careful to keep them hidden away except when feeding your dog.  Some dogs guard food, some lack the impulse control to not jump on you, some have allergies… be sneaky when treating your dog, and if you want to treat someone else’s dog ask first – before you pull the treats out.

11.  If the worst happens and your dog hurts someone else or their dog, be responsible.  Exchange info, follow up, help cover vet bills if needed.

I’m sure I’ve missed some – got any to add?  Sound off in the comments below!

NO Paws Left Behind

What can I say about NO Paws Left Behind that I wouldn’t say about just about any reputable rescue out there?  It feels so repetitive – they work so hard; they try so hard; they have  too many dogs and too few people; they don’t get any funding; their dogs are so special; they stole my heart.  It’s all been said far too often.  I refuse to turn this into a rant-y post, berating you to spay and neuter your dog, research training, commit to their well being, know that they’ll get old and bigger, to adopt or purchase from a reputable breeder, to socialize puppies, etc, etc, etc, because that isn’t what this post is about.

(But for shit’s sake, people.  Spay and neuter your pets.  Train your dogs.  Know they’ll cost you money in vet bills.  They’ll age; we all do.  They’ll grow; we all do.  Don’t support puppy mills.  Socialize your puppies if you get them at a young age.  Come on.)

That isn’t what this post is about.  This post is about my heart getting stolen by a small, privately run rescue in Washington.

NO Paws Left Behind

NO Paws Left Behind is a no-kill shelter whose hearts are bigger than their budget.  They get no public funding – at all – and are built on Carrol’s (the founder) private land.  She started the rescue a few years ago with just a handful of dogs and now they have… 60?  Maybe?  No one seems sure.  As Carrol says, “There’s always room for one more.”

Aside from the literal dozens of rescue dogs, they’ll care for dogs whose owners can’t – for example, if someone ends up in rehab or the hospital or temporarily homeless, NO Paws will take their dogs and keep them until their owner can take them back.  They don’t charge for this.  They also board dogs for paying customers for an absurdly cheap rate.  They have only a few dedicated volunteers, and a couple others who come in occasionally.  And still, every dog somehow gets vetted, gets at least 10 – 15 minutes of walking or playtime daily (minimum), has a clean kennel, and has food and water.

NO Paws Left Behind rescue dog
Jaeger is as happy as he looks (and is available for adoption!)
NO Paws Left Behind
Regina is gorgeous and sweet as pie – with people. She is available for adoption! No other pets in the home required.

It is easy to get caught up feeling helpless – I could spend all my spare time there and all my spare money on them, and it still doesn’t feel like enough.  So here I am, falling in love with these dogs and these people, trying to figure out how to best dedicate the time and energy I have for them.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do.  I’m going to have a few dogs – maybe 3 to 5 – who have some of the worst behavioural issues or need the most training help.  And I’m going to work with them one on one until they are adoptable.  And then I’ll pick another.  Rinse, repeat.

So here are my first two:

NO Paws Left Behind
This is Izzy. She is amazing with other dogs, and just gorgeous. She is VERY nervous with strangers. While she is currently up for adoption, she and I will be working on her confidence with strangers until she finds her home. She gets so nervous, and shows it in all the normal ways – avoidance, barking, and – when cornered – biting. With a bit of patience and lot of counter conditioning, she is going to be a great pet.
NO Paws Left Behind
This is Buddy. Buddy has just stolen my heart. If I could, he’d be here on my couch with me right now. Buddy is a very playful Mastiff mix who, in typical big dog without training fashion, as no idea how big he is. He loves tug and pets and treats. We are going to be working on some basic manners, some confidence (he scares at loud noises, and some sudden movements), and perhaps some socialization with dogs. He has been known to get in fights with dogs in the cages next to him, and currently has a nasty chunk out of his paw from a beneath -the-fence-bite. I can’t wait to work with him so that he finds the home he deserves.

So, wish me luck.  Wish these puppers luck.  Wish NO Paws Left Behind in Oroville luck.  Help if you can – I promise it is appreciated and goes to good use.  And you know I’ll keep you updated – about NO Paws, about Izzy and Buddy, and about all of my training project dogs moving forward.

NO Paws Left Behind
Bach – still a bit of a puppy and available for adoption! Sweet angel, no known issues.
Deuce is the only one pictured in this post not available for adoption. He is visiting NO Paws while his owner gets his life back on track until he can go home :)

Are All Breeders Created Equal?

With the prevalence of movements like #adoptdontshop,  I sometimes feel a lot of guilt coming to me from people who really just want a puppy, or really just want a specific breed.  Especially when talking to me, as a person who works with dogs, I think people sometimes brace for judgement.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but sometimes when people are talking to me about dogs, it feels like more of a confessional than a conversation.  So here’s your blessing, folks: you’re allowed to want a puppy.  You’re allowed to want a specific breed.  You’re allowed to buy a dog instead of adopting one.  Honestly.

Just please, for the love of Dog, buy from an ethical, responsible breeder.  Too many well meaning people buy their dogs from puppy mills or backyard breeders thinking they’re buying from an ethical breeder.  Just like with dog trainers, not all breeders are created equal.  Feel overwhelming?  Unsure where to begin?  Don’t even know what you’re looking for?  I’m here to help.

puppy mills art by retirement fund

A caveat to start us off: I am a dog trainer, not a breeder.  This is not my field of expertise.  But I get a lot of people asking me for help choosing a breeder, so I’m diving into some research and asking around; however, forgive me any errors or omissions – or, better yet, add some insight in the comments below!  (And, for those of you thinking “but… Verena… #adoptdontshop!!” – I’m all for adoption too.  Maybe another time I’ll write about choosing the right rescue dog for you.  But today, we’re talking breeders.)

So, you want a puppy.   Do you know what breed, or at least have a shortlist?  If not, jump back a step.  You can’t look for a breeder until you know what you want.  (And, maybe another time I’ll write about how to choose a breed; in the meantime, Dogs 101 on YouTube is a great jumping off point.)

First things first: your breed of choice likely has a club full of knowledgeable people about the breed.  For example, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, or the Doberman Pinscher Club of Canada.  Not only are these clubs full of knowledgeable people, they also are full of information (health, temperament, etc. for your breed of choice) and will often have a section for breed specific rescues and breed specific breeders that they vouch for.  Do your research on your breed and their recommended breeders.  Lots and lots of it.  Some things to look for:

  1. They only breed dogs who are stable both in health and temperament.  That means waiting for maturity – 2 years old, typically, for female dogs.
  2. Often a good breeder will either show their dogs or participate in dog sports.  Does the breeder you’re looking at do this?
  3. Good breeders will not sell through pet stores.  Full stop.
  4. They are happy to answer your questions.
  5. They match dog to owner based on mutual needs, not just selling a puppy to the first person to pay for it.  Often this means there may be a wait list, and yes, your puppy will be expensive.

Find a breeder – or several, ideally – that you like the look of?  Time to ask some questions.  Here are some suggestions:

How long have you been breeding dogs?

Do you breed multiple breeds of dogs?

Typically good breeders specialize, so they’ll only breed one or two breeds.

What health issues are typical for your breed?  What health testing do you do?  Have you done this for the sire and dam of my puppy?

Unsure what kind of answer to expect?  To repeat a theme here, do your research first and know what your breed should be tested for.  OFA has a great resource for this.

OFFA dog health testing

What will you have done with the vet by the time I get the puppy?

Your puppy should come to you flea-free, dewormed, and should have had their first set of vaccinations.  You should get vet paperwork for this.

Describe the temperament of the sire and dam, as well as any siblings or relatives of my (potential) puppy.

The temperament will depend on what kind of dog you’re getting and what you’re getting it for (ie. you’ll be looking for different things in a working dog vs a pet, etc.) but you definitely want to avoid any known fear, anxiety, or aggression issues.

Can I visit your home/kennel and see how and where the puppies are being bred?

Non-negotiable, this has to be a yes.  And you should do it.

How old will my puppy be when I can take him/her home?

8 weeks is standard.  It should never be younger than 7 weeks.

What organization are your dogs registered with?

You are likely to see either the CKC or the AKC, and some of those aforementioned breed clubs.

What kind of guarantee do you offer?

A good breeder should always be willing to take one of their dogs back, period.  This should cover temperament issues, genetic issues, or even just if you don’t want/can’t keep the dog.

What will you require from me?

Some breeders will do home visits or interviews.  They should be asking you nearly as many questions as you ask them.  They will encourage you to do training with your dog – Canine Good Neighbour/Citizen exams are often encouraged – and they will make you sign a contract that you will spay/neuter your dog.

Describe my puppy’s life before I get him/her.

A good breeder will be treating the puppies like pets.  They will live in the home, not out in a barn or in a crate.  The puppy will be used to normal household life, noises, and experience.  They will be used to handling.

Without a doubt, the most important aspect of dog husbandry comprises raising dogs to thoroughly enjoy the company and actions of people, especially children, men and strangers, i.e., raising “bomb-proof” dogs. – Dr. Ian Dunbar

Having worked with so many dogs with fear, anxiety, and aggression issues, this one really gets me.  The first 12 weeks of a dog’s life are of utmost importance to lifelong socialization and confidence, and they’re with the breeder for the first 8 of those.  The breeder should be socializing them to noises and handling and as many people as possible.  Dr. Ian Dunbar has a great article about this.  Adding to this, how does the breeder handle housetraining and crate training?  This should be started before you get your puppy.

How often do you breed the dam?

Should be at most once a year, and only a limited number of times.

What are your goals with breeding?  Do you have a breeding philosophy?

A dog (any animal)’s welfare should come before profit.  Breeders will care about the well-being of their dogs, and their breed’s genetics.

Can I get references?

Ideally from vets or other owners of their dogs.

If you need an easy reference, The Humane Society has a handy checklist you can take a look at.  Have I missed anything critical?  Sound off in the comments below with your own suggestions.  Do I have something wrong?  Let me know and I’ll update this!  My goal is to help you get the right puppy in your life, not just a puppy in your life.

Good luck, and happy researching!

A Long Overdue Update

It has been almost a year since I’ve last updated my site, and I am so ready to get back to it.  This past year has been a year of change for me; Athena and I, back in April, up and moved out to the Okanagan (in BC) with no plans, and nothing but ourselves and two suitcases.

We had a lovely summer settling in, meeting people, getting to know the area, and just generally finding out footing.  Now that it’s fall, I’m ready to start getting back to my passion; working with animals.

So, without rambling on and on, here’s the skinny:

We have grown our little family, adding one new boyfriend and his dog, Moshi – a Boston/Frenchie mix.  We are living in tiny, beautiful Osoyoos, which is in the southern Okanagan.  Wine country!  I am ready to start taking clients again and will travel within the Okanagan.

Long term goals are to have my own space to perhaps run group classes or do boarding, but… one thing at a time :)

Much love,

DSC_2214Moshi the French Bulldog
DSC_2582 (1)



My First ClickerExpo; Portland, 2017

Hold on to your hats, folks, because I just got back from my very first ClickerExpo in Portland, Oregon, and it was amazing.


In brief, here was my schedule for the four days:

Chicken Camp with Terry Ryan [one day]

ClickerExpo 2017 [3 days]

  • Dr No: How Teaching an Animal to Say “No” Can be the Right Prescription – Ken Ramirez
  • Retrieve Reboot – Hannah Branigan
  • If You Build It, They Will Come: Training a Reliable Recall – Kathy Sdao
  • The Fab Five: Concepts That Will Make Your Training Rock! – Emilie Johnson Vegh & Eva Bertilsson
  • The Rat is Never Wrong: Training With an Errorless Learning Mindset – Susan G. Friedman, PhD
  • Control is an Illusion: Stimulus Control without Frustration – Sarah Owings
  • We Just Have to Dish: Training, Science, and Nerdy Stuff – Kathy Sdao & Susan G. Friedman, PhD
  • Wanted Training Consultant (Those Good with Animals Need Not Apply) – Ken Ramirez
  • Thinking Fast & Flow – Emilie Johnson Vegh & Eva Bertilsson
  • Turn Me On…(or Not): Inspiring Other to Choose Positive Reinforcement Training – Michele Pouliot
  • Keep Your Candle Burning: Avoiding Professional Burnout – Kathy Sdao

Chicken Camp

I have been wanting to do a chicken camp for a long time, in general, but specifically with Terry Ryan.  Clicker training a chicken is known to be a good way for dog trainers to hone some timing and training skills, as chickens are very fast and far less forgiving than dogs.

Terry Ryan & I

Training a chicken is a stretch and a boost to your mechanical skills. The average chicken is faster than the average dog, giving you a chance to improve your coordination and timing. Chickens will freeze or fly away if they don’t like the way you are training them.  Unlike dogs, you will know immediately if you are taking advantage of a chicken or pushing too hard, too fast.  Chickens don’t give their trainers a second chances as often as our dogs do. – Legacy Canine

Despite the (very high) pedestal I had the idea of chicken camp on in my mind, it did not disappoint.  The chickens were so sweet and fast as anything.  We did some targeting work – teaching the chicken to peck a yellow target – and a little bit of discrimination work – I started teaching my chicken to peck the yellow target instead of a green one when they were both presented.  We also did some movement and shaping work; specifically we trained our chickens to walk through a tunnel, which I did using shaping and no luring (ie. I didn’t bribe my chicken through the tunnel with food).  My favourite part was using the yellow target to teach my chicken to play tambourine.  Such a smart girl!


Honestly though, the highlight of the day was just working with Terry.  She is such an excellent instructor; educational but funny, and never boring.  I swear, I could listen to her talk about paint dry and be fascinated.


I’m not going to ramble on and on about ClickerExpo, but I do have a few thoughts to share.


First and foremost, there is something inspiring about being in a hotel surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of positive reinforcement based, force free, clicker trainers.  The dog training world can be a controversial clash of ideologies, and, frankly, it gets exhausting.  At ClickerExpo, there is none of that.  Everyone starts from the point of science based clicker training, and goes from there.

Throughout my seminars and labs, I learned so much, and am definitely a better trainer and teacher because of it.  Some shoutouts:

Ken Ramirez is brilliant, but more importantly, he is just a fantastic speaker.  I aspire to speak that well to an audience one day.

Kathy Sdao is just hilarious and, just like Terry Ryan, can make any topic seem interesting.  Her last seminar on avoiding professional burnout was just so relatable and just made me want to go give her a hug.

Susan G. Friedman, PhD has got to be the smartest person I’ve ever seen speak.  I specifically appreciated her ability to take her brilliance and scientific understanding, and explain it in a way that made sense to those of us without a PhD.

Emilie Johnson Vegh & Eva Bertilsson are goddamn ninja clicker trainers.  Watching them work has changed how I will structure my own training with Athena immediately.  I finally understand the awe that surrounds Scandinavian clicker training.

I can’t wait for my next ClickerExpo…!

Rachael, Andre, and I at ClickerExpo.  Team When Hounds Fly!
Rachael, Andre, and I at ClickerExpo. Team When Hounds Fly!

A truth no one tells you: you will hate your dog sometimes (and it’s okay)

Sometimes – more often than you’d think – when I meet with clients, it feels more like a confessional than like a lesson.  They know I train using primarily positive reinforcement, and they will look totally abashed and confess, “I just lost patience” and admit that they used to use a shock collar, or that they yelled at their dog.  Even the ones who don’t lose patience and punish their dogs will admit to things like that they wonder if they made a mistake getting a dog, that they’re in over their heads, that they just need a break and some peace and quiet.  They always look so ashamed.

Here’s the truth: it’s normal.

Here’s another truth: I do it too.

The first year with my dog, I was sure I’d made a huge mistake.  I loved her, but god she was a hard puppy.  She used to teethe on me so much that I’d bleed, and cry.  And she has barrier frustration that I’m sure I could have worked through, but at the time I didn’t know how, so I couldn’t crate her.  So she’d bite me and I’d bleed and cry and put her in her crate and she’d howl and cry and bark while I would bleed and cry and wonder why everyone else in the world seems to love puppies so much.

When she was older, probably around two, we were at the dog park and she was way too excited and over aroused, so I grabbed her for a time out to calm down, which was normal for us.  For the first time ever, in her non-thinking state of arousal, she redirected her excited play and whipped around and bit me, hard.  It didn’t break skin but it bruised, and I was shocked – I love this dog so much and I do everything for her and she bites me?  I took her home, handed her leash to my partner, and – through tears – told him, “I love this dog but I am going into the bedroom to read and I cannot even look at her for a few hours.”

Even now – she’s almost four, and I am now a professional trainer – she’ll be whining at me or being pushy, and without thinking I’ll snap “Enough, Athena.” and it’s out of my mouth only seconds before my brain goes, “Oh shit, that’s not how we handle this.” and then I feel that guilty pit of my stomach feeling like I’m the worst dog owner in the world.

Here’s the bottom line:

We all do the best we can.  Sometimes, we lose patience.  Sometimes, we just need a bubble bath and a glass of wine with the dog locked out of the bathroom.  Sometimes, we just really want to go pee alone for once (I know I’m not the only one…).  Sometimes, we just need a break.

It’s okay.  It’s normal.  And you don’t need to feel guilty about it.

The vast majority of our dogs have very happy fulfilled lives, with minimal coercion and compulsion (I’m guessing on my readership here, but I’d imagine most of you are not correcting and punishing your dogs).  Our dogs love us, and we love them.  If you make a mistake, if you lose patience, it’s okay; dogs are so forgiving.  It’s part of their charm.

So whether you have a puppy and you just can’t handle their sharky little teeth right now, or you have an older dog who is testing your patience, don’t worry.  Take a deep breath.  You didn’t make a mistake getting a dog.  We all have bad days – people and dogs – but I can’t imagine my life without them.

A photo posted by Verena Schleich (@odditvees) on

Buyer Beware

Here is a thing that’s important to me: living a lifestyle of positive reinforcement.   I think I stole that phrasing from Kathy Sdao, but it really resonates with me; a lifestyle of positive reinforcement.  It’s not just that I am a positive reinforcement trainer, it’s not that I’m exclusively positive, it’s that I am trying to live a lifestyle of positive reinforcement.

“Pure positive” or “exclusively positive reinforcement” doesn’t exist.  With dogs and in life.  Here is my commitment though: as much as possible, I live a lifestyle of positive reinforcement.

That means I try to view the glass as half full.  That means that I am as ethical and humane as possible.  That means that I follow LIMA and the Humane Hierarchy in my work.  That means that I try to treat the people in my life well, and let them know when I appreciate them.

This works well for me in my personal life.  It helps me stay stable and positive and happy, in general and as a person who suffers with mental illness.

In my working life with dogs?  It’s just science.  It isn’t opinion, it’s fact.

In dog training, the most modern, proven science has proven that force free, positive reinforcement based training is the most effective.

As an animal lover and activist, it is also the most ethical.  I don’t want to hit dogs or choke them or intimidate them.  Even if it was effective, it isn’t how I choose to interact with other creatures.


I'm so happy I can hurt my dog at a distance!
I’m so happy I can hurt my dog at a distance!

A problem:

Dog training is an unregulated industry.  Anyone can say they are a dog trainer, so they are.

A problem:

Thanks to popular media and scientific misconceptions, physical and emotional intimidation of dogs is viewed as a valid form of training, without concern for the behavioural fallout or ethics.

A problem:

Due to the massive amount of information on the internet, it is impossible for the average pet owner to pick and choose which sources are correct and which aren’t.

You can even a shock collar on a baby puppy!
You can even use a shock collar on a baby puppy!

A reality:

Most pet owners don’t want to hurt their pets.  They want to do what is best for them.  As far as I know, people get animals because they love them, not because they are evil.  People do the best they know, when they know.  When they know better, they do better.

A reality:

Well meaning, loving, responsible dog owners get help when they need it.

A reality:

Not all dog trainers are created equal.


This is what kills me:

It isn’t the dog owners using prong collars, or ecollars, or choke chains.  It isn’t the dog owners yelling at their dogs or pinning them or alpha rolling them.  It isn’t my clients who tell me that their dog is a good dog, just “dominant”.

It’s the “dog trainers” who teach them these things.  It’s the “dog trainers” whose only qualifications are that they are good with dogs.  It’s the “dog trainers” who talk about “balance” and “real world training” instead of science.  It’s the “dog trainers” who get away with convincing loving, responsible, well meaning dog owners to hurt, intimidate, or abuse their pets.  It’s the “dog trainers” who are so busy feeling arrogant or being right that they can’t get an education.

This industry is buyer beware.  It’s too bad, but it’s true.

Looking for a trainer?  Do your research.  Buyer, beware.

Ear Cropping and Tail Docking

I’m a sucker for strong looking dogs; Dobermans, Dogos, Danes… just beautiful.  Back when I got Athena, my Doberman, I knew next to nothing about dogs and I’m totally embarrassed to admit that I thought their pointy ears were natural; I thought they were born that way.

Doing my research before getting her, I quickly learned that wasn’t the case, and for me it was a no brainer; of course we’d leave the ears natural.  Cropping them just seemed like a lot of work and a lot of hassle, when there was no downside to leaving them natural.  That’s about as far as I thought into it.  It just wasn’t a big deal to me.


Then, talking to the breeder, she asked us to put an extra deposit down if we weren’t going to let her do the ears, because if she didn’t do the ears and we backed out, “no one else would want her”.  While that struck me as odd, I still shrugged it off.  I just wanted my puppy.  I also asked about leaving her tail natural, but they’d already been docked and – excited to get my puppy – I didn’t want to wait for the next litter to get one with a natural tail.  So, I ended up with my Athena; natural, floppy ears, docked tail.

Bitty baby Athena
Bitty baby Athena

And then began what is, to this day, a near-daily questioning from random strangers:

  • “What’s her mix?”
  • “Why didn’t you do the ears?”
  • “She’s not pure dobe, right?”

And so on, and so forth.  I still get it multiple times a week.  And I very quickly learned, everyone has an opinion when it comes to ear cropping and tail docking.  EVERYONE.

So, let’s talk about it.


The history of ear cropping and tail docking seems to go back to, at least, ancient Roman times.  The ancient Romans believed that ear cropping, tail docking, and tongue clipping (?!) worked as a preventative for rabies.  While that is obviously not true, the tiny grain of truth in the thought probably had to do with the fact that working dogs who had tails and ears were more likely to get them hurt (whether in battle, or catching on something), and thus were more likely to get infections and get ill; this would have predated antibiotics.

Interestingly, in the 1700s in the UK, there was a tax on pet dogs but not on working dogs, and the way they’d distinguish between the two was that working dogs had to have their tails docked.  Thusly, having a dog with a natural tail was a sign of wealth (you could afford to keep a pet), and people could dock their dog’s tail to avoid paying the tax.

job meme

Why is it still done?

If originally docking and cropping was done a) for working dogs, and b) to prevent rabies or infections, why is it still done?  In general, but especially for pet dogs?  We now have rabies vaccines and antibiotics, and most dogs – at least in this part of the world – are pets, not working dogs.

Well, it isn’t still done everywhere.  Here in Canada, cosmetic surgery (ear cropping and tail docking) isn’t federally mandated, but provincially; it is banned outright in PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador.  While not provincially banned, the veterinary associations in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec have banned vets from performing cosmetic surgery on dogs, and in BC, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan they have banned ear cropping but not tail docking.

Many countries, including a huge portion of Europe, Australia, and Brazil have banned cosmetic surgery on dogs.

Unfortunately, here in North America it is still quite prevalent.  Which brings us back to the question of why.


Some people argue that cropping ears is a health measure.  Most often you’ll hear people say that it prevents ear infections or can help dogs to hear better.

As for docking tails, they argue it prevents injury; your dog’s tail could hit something and break, or get caught in something.

Is there any truth to it?  Looks like no.  All sources on this seem to be anecdotal, and when we look at the science, it just doesn’t back it up.

In a study of dog’s tail injuries in Great Britain, “The weighted risk of tail injuries was 0.23 per cent…approximately 500 dogs would need to be docked in order to prevent one tail injury.”

The AVMA is also very clear that they oppose both cropping and docking, and in their opposition to docking, they state that:

The essential question is not “How harmful is the procedure?”, but rather “Is there sufficient justification for performing it?” Performing a surgical procedure for cosmetic purposes (i.e., for the sake of appearance) implies the procedure is not medically indicated. Because dogs have not been shown to derive self-esteem or pride in appearance from having their tails docked (common reasons for performing cosmetic procedures on people), there is no obvious benefit to our patients in performing this procedure.

From Ear Cropping and Tail Docking: Should You or Shouldn’t You?, they also raise the point of the ear infection claim.

Research shows that at least 80 percent of dogs won’t get ear infections, “and the breeds that are most likely to get them, such as cocker spaniels and poodles, don’t get their ears docked,” Patterson-Kane says.


Anyone who is being honest with themselves, given all of the above and the abundance of research on it, has to admit that this is what it boils down to: people like the look of a cropped ear and a docked tail.  What we need to consider is, is that enough?  Is the fact that people like how it looks, that it is “breed standard” enough?

Other concerns

Considering how reliant dogs are on body language, in taking away their ears and tails, we are taking away a big chunk of their ability to communicate with one another.  This can have a real impact on their ability to socialize with each other.  Their tails can also help with balance, and with spinal alignment.

It is also a concern that the procedures are painful; docking is done without anesthesia.  Cropping has a lot of aftercare, and can have side effects – including serious infection, or just plain bad results.

Lastly, and perhaps most simply, as Dr. Julie Schell puts it, “dogs just love getting their ears rubbed and petted– don’t take that away from your dog.”

The bottom line

I really think it boils down to cognitive dissonance.  People love their dogs.  No matter if their ears are cropped, tails are docked, their dogs are on prong collars, whatever – all these things I don’t agree with – people love their dogs.  I never question that.  But they like how it looks, and so people need to find a way to justify it; to manage to come to terms with the fact that they want that look and they love their dogs.

Times are changing though, slowly but surely.  I’m seeing fewer and fewer dogs with cropped ears; tails are a ways behind that, but I have confidence that that is changing too.

Here’s hoping that one day, maybe twenty years from now, floppy eared goofy dobes like mine will be the new “breed standard”.

ears and tails


Indulge Me, Just This Once

I try not to make this blog all about MY DOG and MY LIFE because that gets boring really quickly if you aren’t… me.

But just this once, indulge me.  Because I spent today in Trinity Bellwoods Park with Athena and my friend, the ever talented Niki Kennedy, and she spent some time tinkering with her new camera for fun.

She got some really freaking adorable shots, and I just can’t handle it.  So, just this once, indulge me: let’s all coo at how cute my dog is, okay?

Photo by Niki Kennedy


Photo by Niki Kennedy


Photo by Niki Kennedy


Photo by Niki Kennedy

Athena’s “jump” is getting so good! Fist in air is her cue.

Photo by Niki Kennedy


Photo by Niki Kennedy


Ears!!!! <3


Photo by Niki Kennedy

Love of my life.

Dog Cognition

It should come as no surprise as anyone that I’m a dog training and behaviour nerd.  How do their brains work?  How do they process the world?  What do they want?  I’m obsessed.

I’ve mentioned before that I took Brian Hare’s Dog Emotion and Cognition course through Coursera, as well as buying his book, The Genius of Dogs.  I was torn about it; his studies about how dogs learn and their domestication are fascinating,  but his knowledge of training is woefully lacking and, rather than acknowledging that, he states things that are incorrect as fact; he is equal parts interesting and cringe-worthy.  I’m sure he’s a very smart man, but damn do I wish he’d stick to talking about things he’s actually educated in.  I was obviously interested in trying out his Dognition work but, frankly, given how much time I dedicate to training and dog related work, and given how torn I was about him, I was hesitant to spend the money.

Then, by chance, Emma Tecwyn, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, got in touch with us at When Hounds Fly, about her research in canine cognition.  She wanted to use our space to run some labs, and obviously I jumped at the chance to participate with Athena.


cc whf

Here’s the study in brief:

During this session, your dog will participate in a study exploring dogs’ learning and reasoning abilities.  We investigate a dog’s learning in a variety of contexts including dogs’ physical problem solving abilities (eg. how to get a treat out of a puzzle) and their understanding of social information (eh. following a pointing gesture or learning from a demonstration).  Our research takes the form of short, interactive games that are designed to be fun and engaging to dogs.  We record dogs’ actions when interacting with people, toys and puzzles, and the choices they make, to learn more about their understanding of the world.

Cool side note: she’s done these same tests with toddlers and monkeys, on top of dogs!

Athena participated for two tests.  It was adorable; the whole thing lasted roughly 40 minutes and, if you haven’t heard, dobermans are basically velcro dogs, incredibly attached to their humans.  So between each repetition of the puzzle games, she’d swing around to me, head butt me, then go back to work; very obvious she’s used to working with me and only me.  Half endearing, half embarrassing.

The first test was a box that she had to turn a wheel to dispense a treat.

Athena canine cognition
A still from Emma’s video footage, thanks to her study and U of T.

She figured it out pretty quickly.  It was really cool to watch.  I’m honestly not sure that she is “smart” versus used to interacting with objects and problem solving thanks to our nearly four years of training,  but she had a good time with it.

The second test was a set up with two cups, and a tube that would dispense a treat into one of them.

athena cc2
A still from Emma’s video footage, thanks to her study and U of T.

To be honest, I was shocked by how hard a time she had with this.  MY DOG IS PERFECT OBVIOUSLY but I legitimately thought she’d figure this out quickly.  She quickly got five straight wrong, then figured it out and got five straight right.

Here’s why this surprised me: in Brian’s course, we learned that dogs are socially intelligent, meaning they figure out things like pointing and eye contact even when “smarter” creatures (like chimps) don’t.  I assumed she’d view the tube as a “point” to the correct cup, but she just didn’t.  This concept was beyond her.

Here’s a cool thing though!  At the end of her turn, I had them drop a cup in the other cup – the one on the right – after she’d guessed left five times in a row from figuring it out.  And she immediately went right.  So whether she can figure it out without the tube or whether she had figured the game out, the interesting thing, to me at least, is that she definitely wasn’t guessing.  Smart girl.

This is all amazing to me, as a behaviour nerd.  But I get it – some of you aren’t.  You just want to take care of your dogs.  But let me tell you: dogs love puzzles.  A lot.

So whether your dog is a working-dog-doberman, a super-smart-poodle, or an adorably-squishy-pug, here are some of my favourite puzzle toys for dogs, for day-to-day fun or for rainy days:

    1. The KONG Wobbler.  I don’t feed Athena from a bowl.  This keeps her busy for more time, so I can get stuff done, and keeps her and her brain moving.
    2. The Buster Activity Mat.  I just got this for Athena – and several of the “extra” puzzles last week.  It is my new favourite puzzle toy, and she goes crazy for it.  I cannot recommend this highly enough.12317676_699940566815306_1435953572_n
    3. Dog Puzzle Toy  I like this one in that it is wood, so very natural and more durable than plastic toys; however, Athena figured it out in about five minutes flat and has been bored by it ever since.
    4. West Paw Design Toppl Toy is basically my favourite toy ever.  Not that complicated but SUPER durable.  I will stuff this with anything freezable (read: peanut butter, ground beef, cottage cheese, wet dog food) and it takes Athena a good half hour to get through.
    5. Basically anything by Outward Hound is great; the only downside being they are all plastic.  If you have a dog who is a chewer, like mine, she’ll destroy them in ten seconds flat, versus any of the above.

Here’s to smart puppies!