When Hounds Fly Staff Picture – my new crew!

One Chapter Ending

When I started dog walking, my intention was never to do it forever.  It was to stop working in a bar, and start working with animals; to start building up my “thousand-hour eyeballs”, so to speak.  I already knew at that point that I wanted to train, and walking seemed like a really good jumping off point while I saved up for tuition and then worked my way through school.

Ethologist George Schaller has written that to really understand what an animal is doing, you need thousand-hour eyeballs; that is, you must watch the animals for that long before trying to draw conclusions.  – Reaching the Animal Mind, by Karen Pryor

I was lucky, in that I knew Andre, who put me in touch with Rebecca, who hired me and has honestly been the best boss I’ve ever had.

The thing about dog walking is that you can’t complain about your job.  At the end of the day, you get fresh air, exercise, and you get paid to hang out with dogs.  It’s a pretty sweet gig, and anyone in a “normal” job will roll their eyes at you if you complain.  Which is fair enough – I’ll take dog walking over just about any other job.

Jax, formerly "Jax Six-Pack" in his racing days.
Jax, formerly “Jax Six-Pack” in his racing days.

 

But here’s a dirty little secret: sometimes, it sucks.  Like on those days when it is pouring rain and you are soaked to the bone, or those days where you can’t feel your toes and your pedometer clocks in at over 25k and need to thaw in a hot bath for an hour when you get home just to get rid of the chill.  Or those days where a dog tries to eat something weird and you reach down their throat to pull it out, to find your hand covered in a combination of poop and drool, and the dog, rather than being grateful, is trying to snap at you and bite you for stealing it’s precious piece of poop.  There are the days when there is just something in the air and every dog you walk is just on their worst behaviour and you want to cry.  And then there are the clients who treat you like a servant, or who tell you their dog is just perfect, when actually it has multiple reactivity issues and triggers (pro-tip from me to you: if your dog is reactive, I will still walk it.  I promise.  I just need to know in advance to keep our walks as safe and pleasant as possible!  So please, just be upfront about issues your dog has).

Sugar gives the best kisses!  (don't think about poop, don't think about poop, don't think about poop...)
Sugar gives the best kisses! (don’t think about poop, don’t think about poop, don’t think about poop…)

But for all that?  There’s also way, way more good.  There’s the days where the sun is shining and the breeze is blowing and you realize that your “office” is a walk along the boardwalk by Lake Ontario.  There’s the days when all the dogs want to do is give you face kisses, and you can’t help but laugh and feel happy, and push that “remember that time I pulled poop out of their mouth” thought as far from your mind as you can.  There are the clients who treat you like family because their dogs love you so much, who leave you baked goods or tea on the cold days, who leave you cards signed by their dog’s name just to make you feel appreciated.  There are the days where you take your own dog to work with you, and see your baby get along with all these other fur kids you walk.  There are the days when you realize that, other than their owners, these dogs love you more than just about anyone in the world; a dog walker is like the crazy aunt, you see?  We dog walkers get to give kisses and treats and fun and then send the dog home before doing anything more serious.  There are the days where you’re so grateful that you can wear sweatpants seven days a week and no longer own mascara, and no one cares.

Pints, the golden doodle puppy, sweat pants, and fuzzy socks; how I start my average day.
Pints, the golden doodle puppy, sweat pants, and fuzzy socks; how I start my average day.

And so here is the truth: I’m going to miss dog walking, a lot.  I didn’t know if I would, but as my last day draws nearer and nearer, I find myself feeling more and more sad.  Unlike a lot of jobs, I’m not leaving paperwork and a desk behind, I’m leaving real lives and friends behind.  And unlike coworkers, I can’t call them up for hang-outs down the road.  Sean, who is taking over my route, is really great.  The dogs will love him.  And I’m so grateful for that, but I’m also… jealous?  Because they won’t miss me nearly as much as I’ll miss them; they’ll have Sean.

I am really excited for my next chapter, what I’ve been working for all along.  But all the fur friends and lovely clients I’ve met along the way?  It’s hard.

It isn’t like leaving just any job behind.

Big News

When my partner and I decided to get a puppy – a doberman puppy, of all things; an ambitious choice as a first dog for either of us – I knew I’d have to train her right from the beginning.  I cannot stress how close to nothing I knew about dog training and behaviour at that point in my life.  Like a lot of people, I watched Cesar Milan on TV at the time (though now you could not pay me enough to sit through an episode).  I tried to alpha roll Athena once when she was maybe nine weeks old, and she just looked at me like “What are you doing, weirdo? Is this a game?”  I also tried loud noises to stop whining exactly once when something in my gut went this doesn’t feel right

Thankfully, that led me to When Hounds Fly.  I’ve talked about this briefly before, but long story short, When Hounds Fly helped me survive puppyhood with a rambunctious doberman, and it helped me find my passion.  Training helped Athena focus her mental energy and become less destructive (though not before she chewed on my signed copy of The Fault in Our Stars, leading to one of only two times I’ve yelled at my partner “Come get the dog and keep her away from me!  I can’t even look at her for at least an hour!”), because bored dogs make up their own games, and their own games typically aren’t things we want them doing.  We took Puppy Socialization class, Foundation Skills, Rally-O levels one and two, and the Canine Good Neighbour Prep class. Somewhere in the middle of Foundation Skills I became borderline obsessive about training, and somewhere nearning the end of Rally-O I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life.  I talked to Andre after class one day, about a year and a half ago now, and basically said, “Do you think I could do this?  And do you recommend the Karen Pryor Academy?” and he replied, more or less, yes and yes.  He encouraged me to come to him with questions, and touch base along the way.

Bad dog!
Bad dog!

So I did.

I read all the books (I’m looking at you, Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, and Kathy Sado), I took classes and started volunteering, I quit my boring job in a bar and started walking dogs full time, I started this blog, and finally I registered for the Dog Trainer Professional program through the Karen Pryor Academy.  For the past six months or so, I’ve also been volunteering at When Hounds Fly, as well as teaching my own “teacher in training” class on Saturdays.

And now, here I am, a year and a half later, set to graduate in mid-January.  I am unabashedly proud of myself; I decided what I wanted, I worked really hard, and I am making real progress.

That brings me, finally, to my big news:

I have signed contracts and am officially quitting walking dogs to work full time training at When Hounds Fly as of January.

I’m already listed on the instructor page and everything!

I am thrilled.  I can’t imagine better people to work with than Andre, Katie, and Rachel, and I have such respect for this school, as I’ve tried to articulate above.

New year, new job, new adventures… wish me luck!  And come see me when you get a new puppy ;)

Katie, Andre, and I

Tools of the Trade

I’ve been seeing a weird trend lately – I’m talking three dogs in the last two weeks – of people who have their dogs on choke chains with retractable leashes.  I’m not a supporter of either of those tools, but especially not together, so let’s talk about why.

Choke Chains (“slip collar”):

Choke-chain-steel-chrome-plated-MC25-big

A choke chain does what it’s name implies: it chokes your dog.  It is commonly used to help dogs stop pulling, the idea being that it causes your dog pain when they pull, thus they don’t want to pull anymore.  It’s no secret that I’m an R+/clicker trainer, so I’m no fan of punishment based training.  However, people do what they think is best for their dog, and I’m not here to shame anyone about it, even if it isn’t the most effective method.  What I will say is this: unlike the martingale collar, the slip collar doesn’t have a “stop” point; it just keeps tightening as your dog pulls (or you pull on the leash).

there is no way to control how much the choke chain tightens, so it’s possible to choke or strangle your dog. It can also cause other problems, too, such as injuries to the trachea and esophagus, injuries to blood vessels in the eyes, neck sprains, nerve damage, fainting, transient paralysis, and even death. – “Dog Collars” from The Humane Society

I do not think this is the most effective way to teach a dog to walk on a loose leash, but that can be a discussion for another day.  For the sake of this post, I just want to talk about how they work, so the take away here is dog pulls or handler pulls, dog feels tightening around neck, dog stops.

Retractable Leashes:

retractableI hate retractable leashes for several reasons.  First of all, they give dogs up to roughly thirty feet of slack.  Anyone who has ever walked a reactive dog has had the experience of working so hard to maintain their dog’s focus and have a dog run up to their dog, either off leash or on a retractable leash, ruining all the hard work they’ve been doing.  (What always follows is the other dog’s owner’s inevitable “Oh, don’t worry – my dog is friendly!”, to which the owner of the reactive dog sighs, “But mine isn’t.”)  You have a lack of control over your dog’s movement on a retractable leash.  But that’s kind of the selling point of them too, right?  To give your dog some freedom to explore while still being responsible about keeping them on leash?  And I get it, that sounds good.

But let’s talk about other issues: the locks can break.  You can be walking your dog on their retractable leash at a reasonable six foot length, and the lock can break (or you can accidentally bump it into the unlock position).  Suddenly, at best you have a dog who is far away from you and out of control, and at worst you have a dog who bolts into traffic.

They can also cause injury to you and your pup.  I’ve gotten rope burn on my hands from a lock coming undone on a retractable leash, and having to catch the line to avoid an excitable dog running into traffic.  I ended up with oozing blisters on my fingers for my trouble.  They’re also super strong, so if they get wrapped around a dog’s leg and the dog tries to run, it can cause injury.  Lastly, I’m not going to link to it here, but I’m guessing most of my readers have seen the terrifying video of the dog whose leash gets stuck in the elevator door then it starts moving?  Yeah, enough said.

And simply from a training standpoint, a dog on a retractable leash is never going to learn good leash walking manners.  Because sometimes they get thirty feet to explore and sometimes they don’t, and that isn’t consistent learning.  Plus, sniffing trees and meeting other dogs is self-reinforcing behaviour, so every time that dog gets to go sniff or greet something because you’ve unlocked that retractable leash, they’re learning that pulling works.

But, again, for the sake of this post, how they work: leash extends to give dog up to 30ft of freedom to explore.

Using them together:

So, this is just plain baffling to me.  I’ve been seeing it more and more, and it just doesn’t make sense.  I trust owners to make the best choices they know how for their dogs, so if you are walking your dog on a choke chain or a retractable leash, that’s your decision.  But know what your tools do!  Together just doesn’t make logical sense.  Let’s think it through:

The idea behind a choke chain is that it teaches a dog that if you pull, you get pain, so don’t pull.  The idea of a retractable leash is that if you pull, go ahead, and enjoy freedom to explore.  If you put them together, you’re getting a dog who sometimes gets pain for pulling and sometimes gets  rewarded for the freedom to explore, and dogs don’t do well with inconsistent learning.  It isn’t fair on your dog to put them in this situation because there is no way they can be expected to figure out what you want from them.

Know which tools you’re using, and know why.  Know how they work, and go from there.

Better options:

There is nothing I love seeing more than dogs on harnesses.  I don’t care if your dog is the best loose leash walker in the world, a harness is a great way to keep any pressure off your dog’s neck.  For dogs who pull, front attach harnesses work wonders – a couple of my favourites are Smoochy Poochy front attach harnesses (made in Canada, come in all sorts of colours, and have reflective strips on them!) or the SENSE-ation harness – this is what Athena wears!.  If you have a really big dog who is a puller, a head collar, like a Halti, might be a better option.  I like the Halti specifically because it is quite padded and can attach to a collar or martingale for extra safety.

For leashes, I like Smoochy Poochy’s waist least, as it gives the hands free option.  They also have the standard six foot leash, as well as longer ones for those of you who want that option.  You can also get training leashes that are standard nylon leashes but are available in longer lengths, up to thirty feet.  If you want your dog to have that freedom the retractable leash provides without the dangers of the retractable leash itself, this is a good one to have.  It’s also good for teaching recall outdoors, or to leave as a drop leash for dogs who you don’t 100% trust at the dog park!

Happy walking!

 

PS. I swear I’m not in any way affiliated with Smoochy Poochy, I just really like their products!

He was the Most Innocent Thing I’d Ever Seen

 

 

Text of story below, though I recommend this one be heard and not read.

 

He was a Christmas dog.

I had been without a dog for almost a year. The last Sharpei I fostered had died the previous year on New Year’s Eve as her heart gave out while pooping. True story.

She had begun my love affair with Sharpeis and I couldn’t get her goofy, silly personality out of my mind.

We were living in a new place though, one that didn’t allow dogs and, depending on what day of the week it was, my boyfriend was either gung-ho to adding a dog to the household, or completely against the idea.

Today it was the latter.

“We’d have to find a new place, we’d have to move again, I really like where we are, I don’t know that I want to.”

“But don’t you want a dog? You’ve told me time and time again how badly you want a dog.”

This circular argument would go on for ages.

Then I met a 5 week old puppy, who had been brought to the SPCA with a littermate by a woman who said they were placed on her porch by the mother dog, carried over in her mouth by the scruff. He came from a reserve, he was too young to be out of his mother’s care, so they held him for the required amount of days but no one claimed him.

He was the smallest thing I’d ever seen.

Placed into foster care with two other dogs, he was a small pudgy squishy faced pup. I couldn’t believe he was real. A sharpei mix.

I called my boyfriend and told him I’d look for a new place for us. I would move us. I would pay for the entire move, I didn’t care, I just wanted him to say yes to this puppy.

Burbear entered our lives on Feb 1st, 2008 (a month after we’d given our notice as per BC Tenant Law). In the month before we could take him we’d visit him in the foster home, we put the tiniest of collars around his little puppy neck, we’d take him out on walks, bring him downtown to meet new people and see new things. I was enamoured.

He was the most innocent thing I’d ever seen.

We did positive reinforcement puppy socialization classes, we worked on his recall so he could have super fun times running in the forest, on the beach, through rivers and oceans.

I remember one day as a dog approached him he panicked. He ran in the opposite direction, pushed himself up against my legs, and I thought, “….that’s odd”

I remember one night we tried to go out to a show and we came back to a note on our door “Your dog barked all night, I can hear him from my house.”

I remember the panic whenever we put him in an enclosed space, his inability to be crated.

I remember being woken up with him sprawled across my head with his nose inches from the wall. “What’s wrong” I mumbled as I pulled him away from me. Like a magnet he creeped back to the exact same spot and refused to move, pressed overtop my head with his nose right against the wall. Shaking. I tried to remove him again but he threw all his weight against me and that 50lb dog was a sack of cement. This would occur every few weeks.

He was the most fearful thing I’d ever seen.

What did I do wrong? Maybe he should’ve met more dogs, maybe we should’ve made more of an effort to socialize him into adolescence, maybe there was more we should’ve done, more training, more more more.

Those questions still haunt me.

The little Christmas dog was in terror of the world. My boyfriend & I split and I was left with a broken dog who couldn’t be out of my sight. I tried to do short departure exercises but every time, at 5 seconds, he would break down, panicking, barking, shaking, and we’d have to wait at least half an hour before I could start again. He would urinate with no warning while he was sleeping or standing. I couldn’t tell if he even knew he was doing it. We ran multiple urine tests, added every supplement under the sun to no change.

When I had the moment where I thought I was going to break, where I had no resources left – I put him on medication with the guidance of our vet.

They say it can take 4 – 6 weeks for the medication to take full effect. Within 4 days I looked into my little Christmas dog’s eyes and I saw him. I saw him there. He was present. He was focused. He was looking at me.

I had my dog back.

While life with him was still weird at times, it was much more manageable. He still had nightmares, he still randomly urinated. But I could leave him at home and he was able to be crated calmly.

The beginning of the end came when I moved back to Ontario. I knew in my mind that this change in environment could come at the cost of his life.

We stayed at my mother’s where he attacked a dog and was so fearful of a new person that he gestured to bite (a new behaviour). His separation anxiety returned, and I was terrified to leave the house.

I went online and searched for experienced, certified trainers. I found a CPDT certified trainer who was trustworthy and booked an appointment with her.

It’s funny when you live with behaviours so long you just accept them.

“Yes he crawls on top of my head at night his entire body shaking, but I’m used to it.”

“Yes I walk him outside with a calming cap over his eyes so he can’t see anything that might frighten him, but I’m used to it.”

The Christmas dog was broken. He was afraid of the world. And the training, the meds, nothing helped him understand that he was safe. Existence was terrifying.

With the support of the trainer I made the decision to euthanize him. To say it was painful is a joke. It tore me apart. I felt like a failure. I failed raising a puppy. I failed to help him feel safe.

He was the most innocent thing I had ever seen.

I carry his memory with me every day. He’s the reason I work with dogs, I see his face in every fearful dog I see, in every dog unable to cope with the stress of life, in every client who questions if they can help their dog. He is the reason I will suggest that people try medication for their dogs because that medication gave us the best year and a half together. He’s the reason I have empathy, he’s the reason I get it, he’s the reason for the season.

He was a Christmas dog, and it was in December of 2009 that we said goodbye.


 

Katie Hood, KPA CTP is an actor, writer, storyteller, and dog trainer. This is her story, and it was originally published on her website on November 11, 2015.

Tough Choices

Pets live a long time.  Never mind things like parrots and turtles; my doberman has an estimated lifespan of twelve years, and domestic cats can live up to twenty years.  Heck, I had a gerbil who lived until he was five years old once.  I don’t even know what I’m going to have for dinner tonight, never mind my five year plan; yet, I know Athena will be there with me.

There are tons of photos floating around the internet talking about how you shouldn’t get a pet unless it’s forever.  There are a LOT of people who get shamed for saying they can’t afford certain vet treatments and asking for help and the first response is always, “why did you get a pet when you can’t afford it?”

forever pet

And people who are nodding along right now?  I’m with you.  I really am.  When Athena cost us over $10,000 this past summer, we figured it out.  We never once thought “is it worth it?” If I were to, hypothetically, develop allergies, I would take allergy medication every day to keep my pets while getting shots to overcome my allergies.  I fully agree that we should get pets with every intention of keeping them for their entire lives and taking good care of them for that time.

However…

What about when being with you isn’t what’s best for your pet?

What about when keeping your pet through some issues is worse for them than being with you?

What about when keeping them may just be selfishness on your part?

As I touched on briefly in a previous post, I am rehoming my cats.  And before you throw your judgement at me (believe me, I’ve already said it all to myself), let me tell you the story of my cats.

Bast
Bast

When I was a kid, I loved animals.  I wanted pets so, so badly.  My dad was allergic to cats, and I think thought dogs were too much work (frankly, I can’t blame him – my sister and I played classical piano and swam competitively and didn’t have time for much else), so he had a rule: I could have any pet I wanted, as long as a) it could fit in the palm of my hand, and b) wasn’t a bird (because they are messy and noisy).  Fair enough.  I had gerbils mostly, and lots of fish.  We ended up with two baby hamsters at one point when my best friend had a hamster and was babysitting her friend’s hamster, and she, against her parents instructions, let them have some play time.  I loved my critters.  I even took them out to the backyard to let them play in the grass under a portable glass lid my grandpa made me to contain them and keep them from being eaten by birds.  I always wanted a cat though.

The summer I was sixteen, my parents got divorced, and I got my mom in the divorce.  For Christmas that year, there were two sparkly bags for me under the tree.  I opened one excitedly, pulling out the paper, and it was empty.  “Oh, shoot,” my mom said, “you were supposed to open the other one first!”  In the other one was food and water bowls, a little collar, some toys; basic kitten supplies.  One of my best friends had a part time job at a vet clinic, and they’d gotten in some tiny, tiny kittens who were found in a barn, only days old, their mother dead; my mom had arranged for me to get one of them.  The empty bag was symbolic of my new kitten.

We were only supposed to get one, but when we went to see them and these teeny, tiny black kittens are crawling all over you and mewing?  No chance; I got two.  They stayed at the clinic for a couple weeks, but I still got them way younger than most people get pets; I remember doing feedings of kitten milk with a syringe, and carrying them around in the pocket of my bunnyhug.  I took them out to play in the grass on tiny little harnesses and leashes; my little Salem and Bast.

I loved them both, but as an awkward, alternative, pagan girl, Bast was MY special baby; she has bad tear ducts, so she always looks like she’s crying, she is fat, she loves getting pet but will bite you if she gets too happy, and has eight toes on each paw.  For real.  Mommy’s little freak.

Ms. Salem being an asshole when Mommy is trying to game.
Ms. Salem being an asshole when Mommy is trying to game.

Bast was always the adventurous one too.  One time, when she was four or five, she escaped the house.  I cried for a bit, and then I plastered her photo on Craigslist and Kijiji and the Humane Society Website and around the neighbourhood, and I registered her missing with the microchip company.  I even walked around the neighbourhood shaking her food container and calling her name; nothing.

Four full days later, she showed up, happy as a clam, on the back porch looking – I swear to god – smug.   From that day forward, she was constantly trying to escape the house.

A few years after that, one insane, over-tired night, I went to work for a ten hour shift and accidentally left my balcony door open – I got home from work, closed it, and went to bed.  I woke up in the morning, and saw, through the window, my Bast napping on the balcony, not a care in the world about being locked out.

Salem, on the other hand, has always been less adventurous.  She likes people more than Bast does, but won’t even venture into the hallway of our apartment building, indoors.

Me & my Bast-baby
Me & my Bast-baby

Just over three years ago now, my partner and I moved to Toronto from Ottawa, and since me and my cats are a package deal, they came along.

Since we are been here, they have NEVER been happy.  I’m not sure what it is, exactly.  The noise of the city?  The fact that we have far less space in a condo here than they did in their house back home?  The dog?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that since we’ve been here, they’ve destroyed two couches and one mattress by peeing on them over, and over, and over again, until even Nature’s Miracle wasn’t miraculous enough.

I have taken them to the vet, of course.  I assumed a UTI, or maybe something with their kidney’s, to start.  They got a clean bill of health, and the vet suggested that it was likely behavioural.  He said that they probably needed more private space; fine.  In my one bedroom plus den, the cats got two new beds, their climbing cat tree, mental-stimulation cat toys, and three litter boxes between the two of them.  It helped exactly nothing.

I got them all kinds of homeopathic remedies; anti-anxiety drops for their water, pheromone spray and collars, treats that help with urinary health, and super-expensive-your-cats-will-use-the-box-no-matter-what cat attracting cat litter, along with a special mix of herbs that are supposed to attract your cats to the litter box.

It didn’t help.

So that brings me to present.  I have these two eleven year old cats who I’ve had since they were tiny, who came to me at a rough patch in my life, and who have seen me through thick and thin.  I love them dearly.  What do I do now?

I was thinking to myself, a few months back, about maybe putting them on prescription anti-anxiety medication, when it hit me: how selfish am I?  My cats are hitting me over the head with the fact that they are not happy with me that I want to medicate them into a docile state?

So I cried, and cried, and then I thought about options.

I am fortunate that my uncle and his wife have a farm.  They have two dogs, chickens, sheep, goats and miniature goats, horses, alpacas, and… I don’t even know what else, I can never keep up.  It’s basically my heaven!

Oh, yeah, and did I mention?  They also have barn cats.  These are cats who have food and water and litter boxes and shelter and heat, but who live in the barn and have freedom in the country.

This weekend, we’re all packing up and going on a mini road trip to a beautiful farm outside of Ottawa, and my cats are getting a new home.  It is killing me.  It kills me when I’m working on my blog and Bast is lying on my lap purring; it kills me when Salem wakes me up by headbutting me for pets at 2am.  It especially kills me when I remember how, when Bast was a kitten, I’d sleep on my side, and she’d sleep on her side facing me, on my pillow, her paw in my hand.

They started their lives on a farm, so they can live out the rest of their lives on one.

Do I know for sure they’ll be happy on the farm?  No, I don’t.  But I do know for sure they’re not happy here.  I’m going to give them a chance.

Salem, on the very first couch she ever murdered.
Salem, on the very first couch she ever murdered.

A Call for Submissions! – Have you fostered animals? I want to hear about it!

I am starting a new sort of project compiling people’s stories and experiences with fostering animals. If you have ever been a foster parent to a furbaby, I’d love to hear your stories! Please fill in the attached form :)
Please feel free to share this link!

Me and a fluffy hippo at Pet Expo - photo by Amanda Konzelman
Me and a fluffy hippo at Pet Expo – photo by Amanda Konzelman

Moving Day!

My little family has a lot of big changes lined up!

Athena, my partner, and I are moving – still within the city, but to a new apartment.  My two cats have a big adventure of them, as they’re going to live on my uncle’s farm, which will have to be another post in and of itself (but let’s be clear: it’s REALLY A FARM, not like “he went to the farm” in the way your parent’s told you about your dog when you were a kid).  As such, I have moving with animals on the brain!  So let’s talk about a couple things:

The Flaws with our Rental System with Regards to Pets:

I am at my wit’s end with landlords right now.  We need a new place to live as of November 1st.  I know, as most people who have ever rented in Ontario know, that “no pet” clauses in leases are illegal.  The only way it can be enforced is if your pet actually causes issues for other tenants or the landlord – major ones, like illness or massive damage.

A6: Only if the pet is dangerous, causes allergic reactions or causes problems for other tenants or the landlord, must you get rid of your pet or consider moving elsewhere as per Landlord application to terminate tenancy based on animals.

Even if you signed a lease with a “no pets” clause, if the pet is not a problem for anybody they can not enforce it; such no pets clauses are invalid under the law.

You do not have to move or get rid of the pet unless the Board issues a written order to do so. (from OntarioTenants.ca)

Landlords still ask, in applications, if you have pets though.  And, by sheer coincidence, if you check yes, you will never. get. accepted.  I refuse to lie strictly based on principal, but here’s the problem: our system basically forces you to.  If you are a responsible pet owner and an honest person, you’ll never get a place.  If you lie on your application then move in with your pet anyways, there is nothing they can do about it.  It’s infuriating.  Three separate places so far have told us point blank that they’ve turned us down because of the dog, and others just never got back to us – despite our good credit scores and good references.

"I am ready to go!"
“I am ready to go!”

Let’s add to this the level that my dog specifically is, at least an ESA, and at most a psychiatric service dog (which I don’t really feel like getting into again, but feel free to check out the backstory if you are interested); this leaves me feeling a) discriminated against as a person with a pet (illegal) and b) discriminated against as a person with a disability (illegal, and hurtful).

Anyways, we will find a place, and we will find it honestly.  I want to have a good relationship with my landlord, and I want them to love Athena.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating, and it doesn’t mean that I’m not starting to get nervous, with three weeks to go.

Best Practices for Moving with a Pet:

Now, let’s – for my sanity – assume that we find a wonderful apartment with a dog-loving landlord.  Now what?

Athena has been in our current apartment for more than two of her two and a half years with us.  That’s a big change for her!  What are best practices for moving with a pet?

1) I love my vet, and as long as we’re in Toronto, I’ll never leave them.  However, it’s always a good idea to find a vet in your new neighbourhood – whether you’re in the market for a new vet, or just in case of emergencies.

2) Packing can be stressful for pets.  Can they be out on a walk while you pack?  Or in a different room?  Or perhaps chewing on a delicious frozen kong filled with tripe, so that packing time = delicious time?

3)  Keep day to day items separate from the rest of your packing.  You don’t want to end up at your new home for the first time with puppy’s food missing and her favourite teddy bear lost in the chaos!

4)  Be careful to keep pets out of the way while unpacking!  No joke, I knew a girl whose cat died because the movers dropped a mattress on her in a move.  Crates or bathrooms are great for this.

5)  Leave your pets with something familiar; what’s best for your pet?  A tshirt or sweater you wear?  A blanket?  A toy?

6) Remember to update your pet’s microchip and registration address!  If they get lost at the new place, they may not be able to find their way home.  Let’s be sure someone can help them back to you should they get disoriented :)  And on that note, no offleash time unless it is fenced in or highly supervised until they get to know the new neighbourhood!

Anyone have any other suggestions or best practices for moving?  I’d love to hear them!  As always, feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Workshop #1 – KPA

I have just gotten back from a whirlwind of a weekend in Michigan.  Athena  and I drove down Friday night, and drove back Sunday night, for our first workshop for the Karen Pryor Academy.  There are four which, holy crap – I never thought of it this way before, means we are officially a quarter of the way through.

I went into the weekend feeling equal parts “hell yeah, I got this” and “oh my god, what have I gotten myself into”.  I have come out of the weekend still feeling both, but definitely more the former than the latter.

Some high points and low points of the weekend:

High point – by the end of the weekend Athena would let me leave her behind while I went to go to the bathroom and was still quiet when I got back (though very alert and watchful).  This is huge for her.

Low point – All of my carefully selected wobble, topple, and puzzle toys, stuffed with wet food and frozen, got confiscated at the border.  I was upset for about a minute before I realized that this means I have an excuse to buy new ones!

High point – Meeting my teacher, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, who definitely lives up to the hype.

Low point – Athena’s massive meltdown when I tried to crate her, which we’d been working really hard on.  I basically gave up and was allowed to let her settle on her mat next to her crate instead.

High point – The supportive atmosphere.  From Laura, to the staff at Leader Dogs for the Blind, where our workshops are held, to all my classmates; not a single negative or critical feeling.  After demoing behaviours with our dogs, Laura had us write three positive things about each other every single time.  Guess what?  It turns out positive reinforcement is effective!  (Duh…)

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Laura, Athena, and I!

One thing that really stuck with me was a discussion we had as a group about how people learn.  We were talking about how we are so societally conditioned to want criticism, yet for our dogs we are all about the positive reinforcement.  We know that scientifically, positive reinforcement is most effective, yet with ourselves, we still don’t accept it.  At one point, Laura said, “You need instruction, not criticism.”, which really hit me hard.  I’m filing it away in my mental rolodex of trainer-things-to-remember, along with Katie Hood’s “It’s not cheating, it’s strategy!” about mat work.

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Laura signed my copy of her book!

It was a great weekend; it was a long weekend; it was an exhausting weekend.  Athena and I both are going to take a day or two to recharge and recover from the brain-fry, then get back to work, starting on the second unit.  Send us your positive thoughts – apparently unit 2 is a challenge!

You and me both, Athena...
You and me both, Athena…

Learning and Growing

I am notorious for not being able to just let things go.  I’m working on it.  Really.  But I have a couple “hot topics” that I can’t just turn a blind eye.  Dog training is one of them.

Other trainers I know – better trainers than I – tell me I need to work on my zen.  “You couldn’t pay me enough to join a conversation about training on Facebook.”, or “As long as people have the option of positive training versus negative, that’s the best you can do!”  Here’s the thing: they’re definitely right.  But here’s the other thing: I can’t.

I get so easily sucked into the vortex that is a debate on Facebook or Reddit about training and methods, and I have such a hard time just moving on and letting it go.  Partly, probably, my stubborn nature; partly that I think that animals can’t speak for themselves, so I will speak for them – as loudly as I have to.  I’m never aggressive or rude, I just… won’t be quiet.  It’s a running joke between my partner and I that if I come home grumpy, I probably got in another internet fight.

The reason that my partner, and my trainer friends, are right (and more zen than I am) is because you don’t ever win.  On the internet, everyone has an opinion, and everyone can be anonymous.  And most people are a lot meaner than I am.

But, that means that – both as a dog trainer and an animal welfare activist – it is so satisfying when people actually listen and are thoughtful.

I was humbled recently to have a conversation with a woman who works with Bahrain Strays.  I have talked a lot about the problems surrounding dogs and animal welfare in the Middle East, and one of those problems is that they don’t have the same access to training and science based trainers as we do here in the West.  That means that there are really good people working really, really hard to save dogs lives every day who are working with behaviour information that is a good thirty years out of date (yes, I’m looking at you, trainers who dominate, trainers who push dogs over threshold into helplessness, “pack leaders”and yes, that means you, Cesar Millan).

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So, here,  in North America, I still get in (stupid, unnecessary) fights regularly with “dog trainers” who have no real education, who believe in being “pack leader” and “alpha” even though that is scientifically incorrect.  A recent debate was with a trainer here in Toronto who told me that positive reinforcement is all well and good to begin with, but you have to “proof” the behaviour using correction to make it perfect, especially with big working breeds.  My favourite response to this is always, “Um, hi!  Meet my Doberman Athena.  She’s a therapy dog, service dog, scared of yorkies when they get barky, and doesn’t know the word ‘no’.”

In the Middle East, this is even more prevalent.  People, as a whole, don’t like dogs.  Even those who do don’t have the access to information they need to keep up to date with the science.

The most recent big animal welfare news out of Bahrain, thanks to members of Bahrain Strays, was the rescue of Pinky the cat.

And yet…

Someone posted on the Bahrain Strays Facebook group a video of Cesar Millan, saying “I’ve learned a lot from him!”

I replied, (remember how I can’t keep my mouth shut on these things?), “Guys, please, please don’t listen to Cesar Millan about dog behaviour. His methods are cruel, and about 30 years behind in the science of dog training. Dominance theory does not work. He has been sued multiple times. If you have any questions about handing problem dogs, please post here or message me, and I’m happy to help as best I can :) if you are looking for some good training resources, I highly recommend “The Culture Clash” by Jean Donaldson, and “Reaching the Animal Mind” by Karen Pryor.”

On a lot of dog training groups, on Facebook or Reddit, full of people from this end of the world, this would have been a cut throat argument.

From Bahrain Strays?  I got a private message from one of the most active members, who feeds dozens of dogs.  She is literally a hero in my books, and she loves Cesar Millan.  But you know what?  She loves dogs more.  And in our conversation, she was polite, and curious.  She didn’t buy everything I said – that’s part of the problem with dominance/punishment based training; you can see immediate results – but she was open to it.  She even asked, “I would love to see how other trainers who think that Cesar’s training is just outdated or wrong, how they do and how they handle all the problems with dogs… do you have any trainer’s name?”

This just gets to me.  Here, in Toronto, where our dogs are (for the most part) living with silver spoons in their mouthes, we hear far too often about dominance, and leading the pack.  There, where dog fighting is still prevalent, and getting the government on board to actually deal with animal abuse is an ongoing struggle, people listen and are open minded, and are more concerned with what is best for these street dogs that what is the flashiest training.

I just wish people here were as receptive to learning simply for what is best for the animals as people there are.  I think it is easy to see why I want to be in Bahrain, and why my heart has been stolen by the dogs of Bahrain.  Can we all just take a leaf out of their book?  Let’s listen, and keep an open mind, and learn, and be kind.  Let’s not hurt other creatures, even for their own “education”.