Anaesthesia-Free Canine Teeth Cleaning

In the past few years I have come across a few incidents of an individual practicing anaesthesia-free teeth cleaning and every time, it has been very hush-hush. I wondered about the safety aspect, but also about the qualifications of the individuals who are practicing.

Recently this practice has become a little less hush-hush and clinics are being advertised openly. The marketing is enticing and the details sound credible to the average pet owner.

Those of us who actively and reputably work in the industry (trainers, veterinarians, groomers, etc…) know that this practice is highly dangerous, not to mention technically illegal. Even if the practitioner claims to be trained and “certified” – it doesn’t matter.

In Ontario, only veterinarians may practice veterinary dentistry. What might surprise you is that cleaning is also part of veterinary dentistry, according to the College of Veterinarians of Ontario:

Veterinary dentistry includes provision of oral health care including but not limited to: the cleaning (other than simple brushing), adjustment, filing (“floating”), extraction, or repair of animals’ teeth; and to medical treatment of and surgery performed on any part of the oral cavity. 

What is Anaesthesia-Free Teeth Cleaning?
Anaesthesia-Free Teeth Cleaning, or Non-Professional Dental Scaling (NPDS), is the practice of cleaning an animal’s teeth without the use of a general anaesthetic, which involves holding the (awake) animal’s head still for a period of time (30  to 90 minutes at a time), scraping the plaque and tartar build-up off each tooth, cleaning the mouth of all debris, and brushing the teeth.

This sounds enticing especially to those whose pets are showing signs of periodontal disease.

What are the health risks?
While we go in for regular dental cleanings with our dentists, we are cooperative patients and will hold our heads still during the procedure. Animals do not do this willingly. If the animal turns their head suddenly, even just slightly, they can be easily injured or the handlers can be bitten.

Bacteria that rests on our teeth is not necessarily sitting politely atop each tooth – more often than not, the bacteria has found its way under the gum line. If the person performing this procedure must scrape below the gum line, one can guarantee that the animal will respond out of pain and there is great risk of the bacteria being pushed deeper into the cavity and worming its way inevitably into the blood stream.

Brachycephalic dogs (short-nosed, flat-faced dogs such as Pugs, Pekingese, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, Boxers, etc…) and dogs with pre-existing heart conditions can be at great risk while restrained and put under even minor stress or exertion. Ocular injuries from improper restraint, abscesses developing near the root of the tooth, cuts that lead to infection, loose plaque can easily be inhaled causing aspiration, and the list goes on…

Lastly, as this is a cosmetic procedure, the results are very misleading and the owners who partake are far less likely to see their regular veterinarian regarding their pet’s dental health. This means that all the real dental issues that are not addressed during NPDS are left to fester for much longer, causing more damage. 

What are the behavioural risks?
Behaviourally, the risks far outweigh the benefits here as well. Unless you have trained your pet to sit still with their mouth open for up to 90 minutes and tolerate sharp instruments poking, prodding, and scraping, this is going to be a traumatic nightmare for your pet.

Many pets are not taught to be properly restrained for a brief veterinary exam that lasts less than five minutes.  Is it fair for us to expect them to tolerate an hour and a half of discomfort?

The risk for biting is extremely high, but even if they do not bite, they will have learned that any duration of restraint is uncomfortable and even painful. How do you think they will respond at their annual vet check when your veterinarian investigates their mouth? Now we have put our veterinarians at risk  for a bite too.

These types of traumatic incidents are called “single event learning” and this is one of the most effective types of learning in the sense that whatever happens in that situation will likely cause long term changes in behaviour. This is not ideal especially if the behaviour the animal is learning is that they are helpless and bad things happen when people touch them.

What about anaesthesia?
Anaesthesia is not 100% risk-free, but then again, what is? What we do know is that anaesthesia has become much safer over the years and that protocols are put in place to reduce risk, and to manage each patient safely.

When anesthesia is used, “One trained person is dedicated to continuously monitoring and recording vital parameters, such as body temperature, heart rate and rhythm, respiration, oxygen saturation via pulse oximetry, systemic blood pressure, and end tidal CO2 levels,” according to the guidelines. – AAHA Anaesthesia Guidelines

I urge you to avoid these dangerous cosmetic procedures and instead have an open discussion about dental care with your veterinarian. No one is more qualified to discuss this with you than your licensed veterinarian.

Want your dog to have better teeth?
It’s not as hard as it sounds. A few ideas:

  • appropriate chew toys (not tennis balls!)
  • daily brushing with a pet safe toothpaste (do you brush your teeth every day?)
  • regular veterinary exams (see below for chart)
  • a healthy diet (high quality kibble, home-cooked or raw) – be sure that it is professionally balanced and see our upcoming blog about diet.
  • utilizing a Healthy Mouth product in your pet’s water

How often should I see my vet?
Here is a great chart from Dr.Karen Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, CAAB. When dogs hit developmental milestones, it is paramount that we make appointments with our veterinarian and our trainer in order to assess the physical and behavioural health of the dog, preventing future problems and addressing current ones.

I compare this to how often we visit our family doctor or bring our children to their paedeatrician. If we do this for ourselves, why wouldn’t we do this for our pets? It certainly is worth it to me!

AGE OF DOG = FREQUENCY OF VET VISIT
<16 weeks = every 2-3 weeks
16 weeks – 1 year = every 2-4 months
1-2 years = every 6 months
2-8 years = once per year (minimum)
8> years = every 6 months (minimum)
12> years = every 3-4 months

Your veterinarian will occasionally suggest a full dental cleaning that involves anaesthetic which will actually prolong your dog’s life. Oral health is the keystone to our health too. Many people say that it is too expensive or that they don’t need it. Logically, if that were true, we wouldn’t either.

Please take care of your dog’s teeth as well as you take care of yours, and do so responsibly. Cosmetic procedures like anaesthetic-free cleanings are far too risky for any dog. Don’t believe the hype.

Seeking submissive, robotic dog for crated companionship or avoidance.

ImageI came across a review for a trainer today that sent shivers up my spine. I wanted to share excerpts of it with you as it had such an effect on me. 

The reviewer starts out by explaining that their rescue dog came with a lot of baggage including resource guarding, separation anxiety, leash pulling, darting ahead in doorways, and barking at the door. (Typical behaviours for all dogs, not just rescue dogs.) 

They wanted to introduce the dog to the cat. Except the dog had “successfully killed 13 small to medium rodents including 1 chipmunk, 10 baby bunnies and 2 skunks.” So we’ve got a dog with high prey drive and a long history of reinforced behaviour (killing) and we want to set the dog and the cat up for failure by putting them into a home together. 

“I thought it was cute that she followed me around the house and cried when I left. Turns out she thought she was running the show. Not so cute anymore.

What?? She’s running the show by following you around and crying because she’s scared and lonely? How can anyone truly believe this is a dominance issue? Separation Anxiety is a full-blown panic attack, not a status-seeking behaviour. …I digress… 

“With A TON of practice [Dog] was showing all the signs of a submissive and happy dog. We were shocked to see how tired she was at the end of each training session. She was following us down the stairs and through doorways, we have dangled her tennis ball in front of her and she barely even noticed, she rarely barks at the door, but when she does a very small correction is needed.”

That’s my first heartbreak. The poor dog’s spirit is broken. A dog who had clearly been through trauma in the past and had been abandoned at a shelter, returned countless times, is now being punished in the home of the people she thought had saved her life. 

The dog is exhibiting obvious signs of distress through these behaviours and after endless punishment, the dog shuts down, “barely notices” the things that dogs should be happy to see, like tennis balls. 

But wait. It doesn’t stop here. They want to introduce the dog to the cat, remember?

“Then we tried it with [Trainer] present, and armed with our perfected growl and our homemade water bombs. [Dog] wouldn’t even look at [Cat]. She sat in her crate, licking her lips, ears back, calm and submissive. It is safe to say that the changes we see in [Dog] are beyond what we expected.”

I’m sure that if you’ve done your research or trained with us, you know that lip-licking and ears pulled back are signs of stress and anxiety. Not calm and submissive. These are not good signs – they’re signs that the dog has been pushed beyond a threshold. 

How anyone can think that a “submissive” dog is what they want is beyond me. I want a confident, creative, happy dog. Not a slave. I don’t want to punish my best friend so much that they can no longer be a dog, simply a robot…but wait. There’s a little more. 

“We can now watch TV on the couch with [Cat] on our lap and [Dog] lying quietly on the floor beside the couch.” 

That sounds delightful for [Dog]. Congratulations. I’m sure that’s what she hoped for when you picked her up at the shelter that day.

When the unfortunate day comes when you leave [Cat] and [Dog] home alone together and come home to one surviving animal, you will likely blame the dog and give up, sending her back to the shelter, or better yet, to be euthanized…when you should blame yourselves and your trainer. You can blame your trainer for not being educated in animal behaviour and learning theory. You can blame yourselves for not stopping to think for a moment about the best interest of the animals and for failing both your pets. 

I hope that day never comes for this couple, but then again, that poor dog is living a life in a shut down state, constantly being punished for having natural behaviours. Wouldn’t it be better to be placed in a loving home without small animals to prey on? Avoidance isn’t always a bad thing. 

Before you try to train behaviours out of your dog, ask yourself how you want to do that. Do you want to suppress those behaviours and put a lid on a boiling pot? Or do you want to manage the environment as best as you can, while training replacement behaviours? 

When looking for a trainer, find one who doesn’t use punishment to suppress behaviours; instead, creates a realistic training plan with you to manage the environment and replace unwanted behaviours. 

Bullying

In light of some recent events in my own life, I wanted to write a brief post about bullying. 

We’ve all been there, on one side or another; the bully, the victim, or the bystander. These are not the fondest memories of our childhood but hopefully they’re a distant memory. I’m particularly sensitive towards the subject as I was often a target as a young child as I was not the prettiest, not the most athletic, not the most popular. Once high school hit, life became easier in that department and more challenging in others, of course. I’ll never forget the days of being pushed around on the playground, physically assaulted, gossiped about, teased, outcast and ignored. It takes a toll on one’s self esteem and really affects how we view other people. 

I remember hearing my mother say over and over “just walk away – ignore them” and while I wish that worked, I was often followed by those who didn’t know when to let up. My father would agree with my mother and then in private, would say to me “walk away, but if they touch you, hit ’em and hit ’em hard.” 

I wasn’t a fighter. I was feisty, but when you’ve been beaten down, you lose your fire. I preferred to hide away and just wait until dreaded recess passed. I couldn’t wait until the bus pulled up to my street and the two popular girls would take whatever jewellery I had and let go of my hair so I could get off the bus and ice my bruises from being shoved into lockers and smacked around. I sought relief, not continuation. 

The information I was receiving seemed confusing. Teachers told me to report the bullying; this would ensure more bullying or worse bullying later. Nothing worse than being a tattle. I learned that quickly. My mother said to walk away; this would sometimes work and other times encourage following or being accused of being a wuss. My father said to ignore it until it got physical and then stand up for myself as needed. Strangely enough, it was the right information but I didn’t know when which reaction was appropriate and when to apply this new knowledge…so I just hid, passed the time, and hoped someone would be nice eventually. 

Bullying is not just something that happens in the human world; it happens in dog parks all the time. I like this definition of a canine bully:

A “bully” is a socially inept dog who may enjoy playing with other dogs off-leash but is more than likely unaware of the proper play protocol. He may be overly zealous in his attempts to play, and knock other dogs around, chase them mercilessly, or growl or posture in ways that seem antithetical to play. This could be due to poor socialization as a youngster, or to genetic tendencies to ignore doggy societal “codes.” Bully dogs tend to become aroused easily (this has nothing to do with sex, though neutering can definitely help) and find it hard to calm down quickly. (~Atlanta Humane Society)

Bullying behaviour is generally based on a lack of self-esteem and/or a lack of self-control and social skills. Sometimes we find that these bullies have challenges in their own home life (abuse, neglect, etc…).

When your dog is the bully

There are a few things that you can do when you’re the guardian of a bully dog:
  • keep your dog away from the dogs that he/she has bullied
  • limit social interactions to dogs who he/she plays well with
  • supervise closely; at the first sight of bullying behaviour, gently remove your dog and engage them in another activity away from the “victim”
  • find ways to let your dog safely “blow off steam” through appropriate activities like agility, tracking/scentwork, herding classes, tricks classes, fetch, swimming, etc…
  • do not leave your dog in the care of another person unless they follow all rules that you lay out (this includes dog walkers and daycares, as well as family and friends)
  • enlist the help of a professional trainer who specializes in positive reinforcement and refuses the use of force, fear, pain and intimidation
  • learn about canine body language and calming signals
  • work on impulse control and relaxation with your dog as well as a rock-solid recall and “leave it” cue

What not to do

Dealing with a bully can be very frustrating and embarrassing; it’s important to keep a cool head and a keen eye:
  • do not use positive punishment (physical punishment, submissive downs, alpha rolls, etc…); this will only make matters worse
  • do not set your dog up for failure by testing him with “softer” dogs to ‘see how it goes’
  • do not leave your dog in the care of another person unless you can trust 100% that they will follow all rules that you lay out (this includes dog walkers and daycares, as well as family and friends)
  • do not encourage over-stimulation in your dog’s life; keep activities short and sweet, limit playtimes and do not build your dog’s endurance by over-exercising
  • do not listen to others who say “oh it’s okay – my dog will tell yours when he’s had enough” – it is not acceptable to allow bullying or to put another dog in a situation where they should have to defend themselves.
If your dog is the victim

There are a few things that you can do when you’re the guardian of a dog who is being bullied:

  • keep your dog away from the dogs that bully him/her
  • limit social interactions to dogs who he/she plays well with
  • supervise closely; at the first sight of bullying behaviour, gently remind the bully’s guardian that your dog is uncomfortable and insist that you would like them to restrain their dog until you can retrieve yours. If they do not comply, intervene if it is safe and remove your dog.
  • put a stop to the situation well before your dog is showing signs of distress (fear or aggression)
  • enlist the help of a professional trainer who specializes in positive reinforcement and refuses the use of force, fear, pain and intimidation
  • learn about canine body language and calming signals
  • work on self-esteem boosting activities with your dog as well as a rock-solid recall
If you are a bystander

Oftentimes we see this behaviour and we stand back, but I do feel that we have a responsibility to speak up if no one else is going to be an advocate for their dogs. Sometimes just a gentle nudge is all that is needed.

  • “It looks like your dog is quite uncomfortable playing with Rambo; perhaps you’d like to come take a walk with me and my dog and give her a break for a while?”
  • “Hey, your dog plays pretty rough – too bad there isn’t a larger dog with a similar play style here…maybe he could take a little break so that the other dogs aren’t feeling overwhelmed.”
  • Sharing a brief anecdote (about you or someone you know) can also help the person feel like you can truly relate and understand; it also makes you more credible.
  • Offering a few resources like “There’s a great book on canine body language by Brenda Aloff – have you read it?” or “Turid Rugaas‘ book on calming signals is quite fascinating and really changes the way we see our dogs.” or even “There’s a book you might be interested in, called “Play with your Dog” by Pat Miller – it outlines the different play styles and what types of dogs play with best with each other. You should check it out! It really helped me.”
 It’s best to avoid confrontation or accusations as this will only cause the person on the receiving end to become defensive and stop listening to anything you have to say. Sympathizing or empathizing is generally the quickest way to win a person over and keep the lines of communication open.

Recently, I was bullied by a client who had signed up for my classes. After our orientation and a few phone calls and emails, I recommended they see the vet because I was concerned about the puppy’s health and felt a checkup was necessary. After a day’s delay, they saw the vet and sadly, the puppy was feeling so unwell that he “tried to nip” the staff while being handled. This is very common not only for puppies but for anyone (animal or human) when one is not feeling well. The client was told that his dog was aggressive and that they needed to nip this behaviour in the bud as the vet had seen this type of aggression before and it turned ugly. He was then told that the dog would need “more than clicker training to get rid of the behaviour”. 

Needless to say, I was floored. I sent this vet business and in turn he took mine away. I suppose this vet or his staff have not actually studied psychology, nor do they understand what ‘operant conditioning’ means. Either that or he gets a large cut from a training franchise for referrals. One can only speculate.

The client demanded a full refund from me and I declined as the process had already begun and I would be happy to transfer his credit to behaviour modification if he was truly concerned about the behaviour. I spent over an hour working on an email with a list of resources and helpful advice only to be slapped in the face with a list of threats to report me to the Better Business Bureau and have his lawyer contact me and then finally a threat about my reputation in the area. 

My heart was broken, not only for this dog who would likely be going to a local “yank and crank” as we call them (correction-based trainer) to have his so-called “aggression” jerked out of him (otherwise known as “suppressed”), but here I am in grade 7 again with the school bully. I sent a full refund back to him with a note to explain my displeasure at his bullying tactics and I moved on. 

This is now one of my biggest regrets in business. This client did not deserve a full refund as I had spent much of my time with him, I provided him with tools (clickers) and resources (in person and online) and I have a policy that I must uphold, like any other business. I learned my lesson; not to give in to the bully because then he may be reinforced and turn the bullying on his own dog. Next time I will risk the negative Yelp review and I will stand up for what I believe in, which is me and my business. I know I do a good job and that my clients are happy. I know that I have solved dozens of cases with a clicker and have not had to resort to “beating aggression out of a dog”. I also know how it feels to be bullied and I will not go there again. 

I can only hope that he sees the light before his puppy becomes like so many others who have gone down this path (myself included); truly aggressive. Perhaps someone on the street will be the bystander and say “Hey – I’ve been where you are and you don’t have to yank on your puppy’s collar or bark at him in order to “fix” him. There is a kinder way.” 

Now I must move on to the clients who are committed to humane methods and relationship-building with their dogs; they are the ones who are deserving of my time and efforts. 

Do you train with treats?

This is such a common question and one I received again today. Here is how I responded:

To answer your question, yes and no. When training dogs, I use whatever the dog finds rewarding. It’s not something that we can choose for them – just like I can’t choose what you find rewarding. One of my dogs is not overly food-motivated; he is motivated by scent…so much of our training is done while outdoors and I can use a “go sniff” as a replacement for “here’s a treat”. My other dog is incredibly food and toy motivated, so I alternate between them depending on the moment.

I would be very wary of any trainer who refuses to use treats to train; it’s like applying for a job and the HR Manager saying, we don’t use money to compensate you – we use praise. Would you work for “good job”? Likely not – we have our own reinforcers (success, fame, money, etc…) and expect to be rewarded when we do well. Dogs are no different. Working with dogs, we have to reward the behaviours we want repeated, otherwise the dog will do a cost-benefit analysis the next time and say “well, it wasn’t worth it last time, so I’m not going to bother this time.”

When a trainer uses punishment (or even a “balanced” method using treats and corrections), you get confusion. The dog takes a chance every time he’s asked to do something. There’s a 50% chance that he’ll get rewarded and there’s a 50% chance he’ll get yanked by his neck. That makes for a fearful, anxious dog who cannot learn in that environment. If the dog is a strong-willed dog and can withstand that punishment, he may tolerate it for a while but then lash out and bite later (this is what happened to me early in my career when I used corrections – I got mauled.) If the dog is meek and “soft”, he may simply shut down and avoid all interaction with people as they bring fear and pain.

I have signed a code of conduct that states that I do not use fear, punishment, pain, intimidation to train dogs. I treat dogs with respect and in turn, I work with the happiest dogs who trust people, listen to their guardians and are wonderfully successful. When I do use treats, we wean off very quickly so that there is no dependency. We replace the treats with toys, affection, scent-games, socialization, whatever the dog finds rewarding. This is the only method that is scientifically proven to work with dogs.

You might ask “how do you discipline your dog?” Instead of punishing, I set the dog up for success by preventing problems, teaching alternate behaviours before bad habits are built, and redirecting any behaviour I don’t like. “Positive” doesn’t mean “permissive” – I just can’t justify punishing a dog if I haven’t taught him what I’d rather he do.

When dealing with puppies, it’s so important to use food as a reward as it’s what they understand, and the process is much faster (and more enjoyable) for both of you. If a trainer is not using food when training puppies, I can only imagine what they are doing to train them. Likely corrections. Imagine punishing an infant – it’s the same thing.

There is so much conflicting information out there, but if you keep your focus on science-based training rather than television shows or “overnight trainers” (ones who just hung a sign saying “trainer” without any education or training), you’ll do just fine.

A few resources from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior to leave you with:
Puppy Socialization Position Statement
Punishment Position Statement
Dominance Position Statement

Obedience for the Robot dog

Often, I get asked a question that sparks a blog post. Here is another.

When we bring home our dog from the breeder, we have these ideas in our minds about obedience and what we’re going to accomplish with this dog. We work so hard, putting our blood, sweat and tears into training our dogs and sometimes we get so caught up in the process that we don’t enjoy the dog. We forget that our dogs are still dogs and while we’re busy teaching them cues and behaviours, they’re being so accommodating and compliant but sometimes they just don’t want to do it.

A couple of years ago, my marketing was covered in the word “Obedience” and every client that came to me said “I want my dog to be more obedient”. It never sat well with me as it triggered flashbacks of my early days of forceful dog training (corrections and the like). One day I woke up and decided that the word would no longer be in my dictionary. I would replace “obedience” with “training” or “teaching”, and “command” with “cue” or “signal”. I would not treat my dog as a slave who must obey me, rather a companion that has free will but has been taught appropriate behaviours and my language so that he can understand when it is imperative that he listen to me (for safety or simply for reward).

It changed everything, having those words replaced. It felt so much better and suddenly my relationship with my own dogs was different.

A common question I get as a trainer is about loose-leash walking. I always laugh because Parker doesn’t really walk loose-leash. If you’ve ever seen me with my dog, he’s rarely in a perfect heel and the leash is rarely draped in a lovely U from his collar/harness to my hip. He has three legs and needs momentum. This means, I’m the sled that he pulls around the city for the most part. I’m okay with this. He’ll heel if I need him to and he’ll walk nicely if I ask…but frankly…I rarely ask. He does everything else so beautifully and this is the one thing I don’t really care about with him.

The common question is “how can I get my dog to walk loose-leash on the first walk of the day? He drags me around until he finds a spot to “go”and ignores all of my requests and even the treats that I offer!” Here is my response:

As for the first walk of the day, I never ever make my dog heel or even walk nicely in that situation, to be honest. They’re so desperate that it’s all they can think about and frankly, it’s one time where I personally don’t care about training. Dogs have to be dogs sometimes and if that’s the only time he pulls, I don’t see it as a problem. I let my boys pull me (not literally) down the street when they’ve got to ‘go’ – I run with them so that they can get there faster. Once that business is done, both my dogs are so much more receptive and appreciative. Look at it this way: when I have to go to the bathroom first thing in the morning, I don’t stop and offer 10 minutes of niceties to my partner – I just get from bed to bathroom and when I’m finished, then we can have a conversation. Business is business.  Too much information. I know.

My theory (even as a trainer) is that dogs cannot be expected to be “robots” and to be completely obedient (oh how I hate that word) all the time. There are times where I need my dog to defer to me and to respect my wishes, but there are also times where I need to let him be a dog and do what he wants (when it is safe). If my dog doesn’t listen to me in a situation, I simply take note and file it for later so that I can figure out why the motivation wasn’t strong enough, what his reinforcer was and why it was so strong, or if he simply *really didn’t want to do what I was asking of him* because of another factor that I wasn’t aware of at the time. I’ve learned to watch him carefully and assess the situation first. If I have any doubt about him responding to my next cue 100%, I don’t ask for it. I wait for an appropriate time, or if it’s an emergency, I go into management mode.

We can’t read their minds, but sometimes they’re too nervous to sit, too tired to do a perfect heel, too emotionally taxed to offer a hand target or a complicated behaviour chain. Most of the time they do it because we’ve spent so much time “programming” it into them, but they just want to be dogs and they work so hard to please us and our silly requests that they deserve it. You can “be the cookie” all you want, but sometimes they just want to “be”.

I went to a Christmas party a few weeks ago and when I was introduced to people as “that dog trainer I was telling you about”, I wanted to curl up under a table somewhere. I’m proud of what I do and I love it…but sometimes I want to be “Caryn” and not “Dog Trainer Caryn”. As soon as I heard the first person say “Maybe you can answer this question…I have a dog who…” I cut them off and said that I’d rather not “talk shop” but they can call me after Jan.2 and here’s my card. I realized then how important it is for Parker and Buster to have time where they don’t have to be “obedient” because if I had to be “on” all the time I’d likely lose my mind or start hating people in general.

Are there things that your dog does that are considered “disobedient” but you don’t care? Let’s have it. Put it on the table – I’d love to hear about it

Woofstock: a review

“Woofstock is the largest outdoor festival for dogs in all of North America.”

In case you haven’t been watching, Woofstock is on this weekend…and where am I? Comfortably seated at home, waiting to take Parker on a nice hike…maybe even a swim. I’m not in Toronto and I’m most certainly not on Front Street in the middle of the chaos. You might wonder why a Pet Professional isn’t participating in North America’s largest pet festival – I’ll let you in on the secrets in this post.

I went to Woofstock yesterday to support Big on Beagles – a wonderful Toronto-based assistance agency for Beagles experiencing troubled times. I spent about two hours before I felt like I was about to explode. My patience ran thin and Parker was sensing it too. I had an inkling this would happen and it even started to show during my first session of the day with my little Boston Terrier, Steve. His pup-parent turned to me and said, “We were going to go to Woofstock today – any words of advice?” I paused and tried to be positive. “Don’t go?” I replied. It was the best I could do.

The truth is, this festival has great intentions and the idea is wonderful. I’ll give it that…but that’s about all I can give it. Our city is crazy enough as it is with all the pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, etc…but now gather over 300,000 dogs and their humans (combined) together in the span of five city blocks, along with loud music, people yelling into microphones, food and drink everywhere, garbage strewn about and piles of ‘caca de chien’ that people have completely missed picking up, overflowing garbage bins covered in urine, and tell me that your dog is not going to become completely over-stimulated.

Yesterday, I ran into some very interesting people and wanted to give you a glimpse:

The Scam Artist

I walked into the Dean & Tyler booth to look at their custom harnesses that are really quite stunning. I was admiring the ones that allow you to add and remove patches that say things like “In Training”, “SECURITY”, “Search & Rescue” and “Service Dog”.

While looking around, Parker made friendly with a retriever mix whose human was paying for the vest he was wearing. It said “Service Dog”. She looked at me while her credit card was being processed and she beamed “You should get one too! Now I can take him everywhere!” I looked at her for a moment and didn’t say a word. “No one’s allowed to ask you for proof, so anyone can wear these now and get access to everywhere!” I let her dig her own hole. I took a deep breath and said “I won’t buy him one because I have integrity and I think it’s awful that you’re using the system for your own benefit when there are people who actually need their Service Dog to accompany them. That’s very dishonest.” And then I walked away. I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that wants to smack people like that right in the mouth.

The “Trainer”

As I walked over to the Big on Beagles booth to meet up with the lovely Marna, I passed by two Rottweiler puppies and their human. I’m a big Rotti fan, so I looked up at her to give her a smile and say “those are cute pups!” when I noticed two things: they were both wearing choke chains. My heart dropped a bit as I thought “poor, unsuspecting owner – she probably has no idea there are better tools out there.” But when I looked up at the owner, I noticed her t-shirt. She was wearing a company t-shirt with a logo for a dog training school, and on the back, it said “Trainer”. My heart dropped into my feet. Clearly, a “trainer” who has zero education in the field.

I couldn’t say anything – I’m not about to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong as I know I have a hard time holding my tongue in situations like this. I’ll leave it to her vet to explain tracheal, esophageal and cervical spinal damage caused by choke chains. They’ll certainly do that, won’t they? [insert head shaking here]

The Purse-Pup Parent

Ah, my favourite. The parent whose dogs are so tiny they are dressed up and carried in a purse instead of actually socializing on the ground with their own species. This one nearly gave me an aneurism yesterday. She finds out that I’m a trainer and she says to me “Oh, I love training. My dogs love learning. Watch this.” And she plops one pup on the ground, she stands tall, sticks out her chest, deepens her voice and stiffens every muscle in her body before bellowing “SIT. SIT. SIT.” and the poor dog sits with his ears pinned back, his eyes averted and his head as low as it can go as he cowers. She continues. “DOWN. LIE DOWN. DOWWWWWWN.” as she uses one hand for the hand signal that looks more like “I’m going to smack the daylights out of you”. The poor dog, still cowering and shaking, lays down and starts to quiver. She turns to face me proudly and says “I’m really good at training. We do this all the time.” I look at her and say “Yeah.” and I walk away. I can’t talk. Nothing I say to that woman is going to change anything and I have the feeling my tongue will split and curl as fire shoots out of my mouth. The best thing I can do is walk away without more than a word.

The Yanker

Parker and I stood by The Hydrant‘s booth, admiring the collars as a woman and her two Great Dane / Mastiff-type dogs strolled by, both on head halters. Parker leaned over to have a quick sniff and one of them turned and gave him a “hey – you’re too close” warning growl (something I find perfectly acceptable) and the woman yanked so hard on the leash that his head snapped right back into place.

Another woman, with her beautiful Doberman (on a prong collar, of course) was walking along, giving the poor dog constant corrections as she walked. The Doberman wasn’t even walking out of line – he was right beside her, but she was so used to “correcting” that she was doing it without even knowing it.

I can’t even count on two hands how many people were walking their puppies and yanking on their poor necks as they walked.

I wish hands-free leashes were mandatory in life.

Woofstock breaks my heart. It’s hard enough walking around on a daily basis seeing prong collars, choke chains, people dragging puppies, fearful dogs and people who don’t even understand the basics of “doglish” but to see them gather in masses to celebrate this amazing species in this way, that’s too much for me.

The last straw was watching dogs strolling around with Kijiji bandanas around their necks. How is it that Woofstock allows a booth to be rented by the number one supporter of puppy mills? How is that acceptable? Where are the standards? I can get past the fact that we now have booths for places like Canadian Tire, Pledge, Rogers, Sony and Winners. These are clearly a money-making scheme that have very little to do with dogs (yes, I know that Canadian Tire and Winners sell a *few* dog-related products – they’re not exactly “pet stores” though). Why don’t we start having booths for anti-freeze and rat poison? As long as the money’s coming in, right?

I had a booth last year. It was $1000 I will never get back and hours and hours of my time that I will never get back either. I barely spoke to a single person who was truly interested in training – the most frequently asked question was “what are you giving away?” to which I started responding “my patience”.

One amazing quote of the day was “this is such a great socialization opportunity for our dogs!”

Yeah, if you want a dog that is completely overwhelmed, overstimulated, emotionally shutdown and perhaps even take on a behavioural issue like leash-based reactivity. It’s fantastic. Really.

I think I will stick with my own ideas of healthy socialization and look to Woofstock as simply a wonderful avenue for rescue agencies and other not-for-profits to get exposure. And if I do go next year, I’m going without my dogs and I’m going to try harder to wear rose-coloured glasses.

Off-Leash Wonders

What an interesting weekend…to say the least. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends recently and you may have noticed since my post-session notes are days late and I’m likely frizzy-haired and cross-eyed when you see me.

I moved from Toronto to Oakville last week and the commute is about two hours each way on transit. (Yes, I’ll be getting an iPad for the GO ride in a couple days!) I love that during those two hours I can read, catch up on voicemails, write notes and maybe even catch a few extra Zs. The downside is that my cancellation policy has had to become far more strict which makes me feel like a grumpy ol’bear at times. First lesson deposits are not something that I ever wanted to implement but now I will have to.

Regardless, I’ve been working long days. This weekend I had two twelve-hour days in a row and by the end of it I was so exhausted that I was somewhat delirious. Saturday was simply back-to-back clients (private, group and behavioural) and Sunday was my Dog Walker Course and then a dry-run of a new class that I’m excited to announce soon (be patient, it’s coming!).

After our dry-run class on Sunday night, I was walking with my colleague back to her car with her pup when three dogs came running up to us off-leash. Her pup is not reactive or problematic in any way, but he is an unneutered adolescent male which means that other dogs may not be totally cool with him. I immediately went on the defensive as I know what Parker’s like with dogs like him and I didn’t want to see this guy get into a tussle. Clearly the owner wasn’t around so I body-blocked the dogs back a bit and then lured them back to their driveway.

Thinking I was successful and taking it a step further, I asked them to stay as I turned to walk away. Stupid me. One of the dogs decided to take the opportunity to bark and lunge at me. I was about 2.5 feet away and he charged at me and gave me a muzzle-punch (level zero on a Cara Shannon Bite Hierarchy chart, so still considered an aggressive move). I walked away as I was tired, cranky and just in no mood to engage and with who? A dog? With no owner present? No thanks. I’d make a quick call to Animal Control and let them know that three dogs are lose and charging people and approaching dogs off leash on a busy intersection. They can take care of it.

We get to the car and lo and behold, the three dogs come around the corner about 100 feet away, this time with their owner. We get the pup in the car and before we can close the hatchback, the three dogs are there, one approaching the back of the car where sits our lovely pup. I body block him back again and say to the owner “It’s not safe for your dog to approach – please call him off.” to which I got an snarly “Control YOUR dog.”I replied – “our dog IS controlled – you need to keep your dogs close to you.” She turned to me with her cranky sneer and says “What do you want me to do? LEASH my dogs?” I start to laugh mainly out of sheer sarcasm and a desperate attempt to not let violent tendencies overcome me. “Um, yeah. Since it IS the law. That WOULD be a good idea.” She tosses a few profanities my way and I turn my back on her as I say “Don’t you run a doggie business? I’ll be sure to spread the word.” She and her three little dogs walked away, off-leash while she texted on her phone without a second look at her dogs.

I admit I was shaking and my colleague did not see the best side of me that day, but things like that really get my goat. It’s enough to make me use positive punishment on a human being. You know what I’m sayin’.

Anyways, I headed home and called Toronto Police and Animal Control to file a full report. These dogs should not be loose, nor should that rude owner get off without at the very least, a warning. What happens if a reactive dog walks by and those dogs approach and it sends the reactive dog past his threshold and into an aggressive incident causing serious damage? Who’s in trouble now? Well, sure the dogs are off-leash and unsupervised and their owner will likely pay the fine, but the reactive dog has to contend with a serious setback – one that is quite traumatic to say the least.

What if a child walks by and the dog decides that a muzzle-punch is old news and breaks skin?

I hope this person makes the right decision and smartens up about her responsibilities as a pet-parent in our city. She makes us all look bad. It’s sad that she runs a business in the pet industry as she’s setting a terrible example for others and poisoning the industry as a whole.

I’m a walking advertisement. When I walk my dogs and even when I’m out in public without them, I’m still representing Whatta Pup! so I act appropriately and reflect a professional image. (Yeah, we all have our bad days.) This woman isn’t aware of that, though. She is not someone I would ever hire or befriend. I certainly will make sure that she doesn’t get any of my business nor the business of anyone who asks me. People like that don’t deserve to succeed.

There. Rant of the day complete. *wink*