Ski…what? Skijor!

Kali and I recently joined a Skijoring/Kicksledding course and I am going to be writing a few blogs about our experiences. We are taking the course in Winnipeg, Manitoba at Training Loyal Companions with the amazing Diane and Skijor master Kev Roberts from Skijor OxfordDogs. Make sure to click on those links to check out more about them! Kev has tons of great info on gear, Skijoring, Kicksledding and dog information in general.

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First I should explain what Skijoring and Kicksledding are. Skijoring is a winter sport where a person is pulled on skis by a horse, dog, or motor vehicle. When Skijoring with dogs, the skier is skiing and pushing with poles, while the dog assists. The dog and skier both have special harnesses so you aren’t putting any pressure on the wrong places of the human’s or dog’s body. Kicksledding is the same idea but on a fancy sled rather than skis. The dogs are still assisting, you are helping move along by kicking the ground to keep the sled moving. If you want to learn more about these sports click here for some book recommendations and reviews.

We started a few weeks ago, but there wasn’t any snow you say! Well, you can’t run before you can walk, in most cases. We started all of our training on foot to really teach the cues and keep them focused. Especially with Kali and Nanu….We would have been visiting rabbits all over the street! The first class we talked about the sport in general, some safety stuff, and our dogs got fitted for gear. You will see Kali wearing the Second Skin Harness. For more information on gear click here.

The second class we really started to get into it. We talked about stretching our dogs before and after, I didn’t even think of this! So important and a great way to bond with your dog. We discussed getting our dogs comfortable with us touching their feet to apply paw wax and remove any snow build up between the toes. We then began to work on “LINE OUT” where the dogs pull the line taught and wait for you to get yourself, or the other dogs ready. I am telling you, this one was tough. It takes a lot of time, patience, and practice. It can take a year to get your dog to have a solid line out, especially since with obedience training you are always training your dog to come back and look at you.

Our third class, we went on a group walk to Assiniboine Forest. We took turns passing, worked on our “LEAVE IT” or “ON BY” and did some hill work (getting your dog super excited and running really fast up a hill). We also started adding in the cues for left “HAW” and right “GEE”. While practicing at home, Kali still wasn’t quite getting the whole “LINE OUT” and she was fairly distracted, but on this walk she really surprised me and did so amazing. I couldn’t have been more proud. It also gave me the motivation I needed to brush off the old skis, take them in to get hot waxed, and buy some new boots.

In the video above, Kali is practicing some of her Skijoring commands before we start on skis. Her “LINE OUT” is really coming along, as is her “GEE” (turn right) and “HAW” (turn left). I called for the “GEE” command a bit late but did get to see that she is starting to understand what it means. Once we started moving she did a great job keeping the line taught and didn’t get distracted by some people who were walking down the street towards us. All in all I am super impressed with how well she is doing.

Our next class will be trying out a kicksled now that we have some snow. Kali and I are just so excited. Make sure to stay tuned to learn about our first experience with equipment. I am hoping to get some video of Kali and I in action.

Oh, did I mention what my favorite part of this class is? That it is all trained using Positive Reinforcement. Last winter, I took a one time workshop and was fairly disappointed in how my dog was treated, and the class in general. I was pretty discouraged until I heard about the OxfordDogs course and now I am just waiting for that snow to fall!

Have you ever tried Skijoring or Kicksledding with your dog? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Brain Games for Dogs

How do you exercise your dog? Do you exercise their brain too? Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise. Throughout history, dogs have been bred to have jobs. Sure, most of our pets aren’t working dogs, but none the less they still need something to do to keep busy. Dogs that are heavily exercised but lack outlets for mental stimulation suffer from an imbalance that can lead to several behavior problems. If you exercise your dog well but don’t provide mental stimulation, a possible result is a wonderful but bored athlete that has the energy and physical fitness to destroy lots of things or participate in many undesirable behaviors!

It is important to give your animal the opportunity to perform various activities each day. If your pet spends an hour a day barking or gnawing on the table legs, it is probably lacking stimulation. If you provide a variety of structured activities, it is likely that the undesirable behavior will decrease or be extinguished. For example, if your pet spends 30 minutes to an hour per day eating instead of wolfing food down in 5 minutes, it will have met a large part of daily activity needs, and will be less likely to destroy the couch or dig holes in your backyard!

Feeding Your Dog

How do you feed your dog? Do they get meals in a regular bowl and wolf it down in seconds flat? Just think! All of those rewards being wasted in just a few minutes. Use it for training exercises or stuff it in a kong or other treat dispensing toy and make them work for it! In the video above, you can see Nanu eating her breakfast out of a kong. Buy or make a few different dispensers and switch them up but remember to always put them away after they are done with them. You don’t want it to be available to them all of the time because you want it to be a novelty.

Home Made Treat Games

You don’t have to break the bank on expensive treat dispensers for your dog! Pick a few good items (like a kong) and try making some others at home.

  • Different types of plastic bottles or containers. Make it interesting! Use some with the lid off, and some lid on and cut holes into the plastic in different places. Just make sure not to leave any sharp edges.
  • Put pieces of kibble or treats in a muffin tin and cover each indent with a tennis ball. Remember, you want your dog to be sniffing out the food so make sure not to fill each hole and always leave different ones empty.
  • Put kibble or treats underneath different Tupperware containers and get your dog to sniff them out and figure out how to get the container off of the reward.
  • I recommend using your dog’s food for all of these activities so they do not gain any weight. However, if you are using treats, make sure to minus that from their daily food intake.

TIP: If you want to give your dog a tasty treat to calm them down if they are over excited, or anxious because company is coming over, try frozen peanut butter, sweet potato, or low sodium chicken broth in a kong!

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When playing a special game, or when teaching a new behavior, make sure to use a really high value reward that your dog wants to work for. These treats should only be about the size of a pea and very soft. Switch it up! Use different kinds of rewards such as chicken breast, cheese, Zukes Training Treats, etc. If your dog starts to get bored of one, either take a break or switch to another. If your dog isn’t big on treats, you can use a favorite toy that they only get to play with during training time, or if they are attention seekers, give them some love.

Hide and Seek

Hide and seek is a great game to get your dog to use his brain, and get some physical exercise. This is especially good on those really rainy or cold days, or you are just too busy to get outside. Hide and seek also encourages your dog pay attention to you on walks, because he learns to look for you and he gets a tasty reward or fun toy.

  • When your dog isn’t paying attention to you, slowly walk away and find a hiding spot (examples are around a corner, in a different room, etc)
  • Wait for a second and then call your dog’s name. If he has stopped and isn’t looking back, call your dog’s name again in a very excited tone.
  • As he rushes to find you, keep calling out his name. Once he finds you, praise him and give him a treat or toy. After the first few times, your dog should figure out to come find you after just calling his name once.
  • Now that your dog is catching on to the game, start incorporating some training! Get your dog to “sit” use “stay” or “wait” go hide, and introduce “find it”. REMEMBER, don’t start using “find it” until he is going to look for you every time.
  • When your dog is a hide and seek expert, you can start hiding in more difficult spots inside the house, and move to play in the backyard or at the park where there are more distractions.

Hide and Find the Treat

This game is similar to the first, except you will be hiding treats around the house. If you have multiple dogs that can be aggressive around food, play with each of them separately.

  • Grab some treats, go into a room without your dog and hide them. Make sure to use really smelly treats the first few times.
  • Hide the treats in pretty easy spots until your dog learns how to play the game, you may even have to point them out for him at first.
  • Call your dog into the room and let him at it!
  • Once your dog gets really good at the game, start incorporating some training! Get your dog to come into the room and “sit”, “stay”, and “find it”!
  • If this game becomes to easy for your dog, start hiding the treats under different types of tupperware containers.

Tricks and Obedience

Work on your dog’s obedience training! Sit, stay, down, shake a paw, etc. Take a class with your dog, this does not only work your dog mentally, but it also creates a great bond with you and your pet. There are so many different tricks you can teach your dog, not only to impress your friends, but also as a calming method when they get overly excited or nervous.

REMEMBER mental stimulation is very important, but needs to be paired with physical exercise, you cannot do one or the other.

How do you keep your dog happy? What is your dog’s best trick? Let me know in the comments below!

Collars, Collars, Collars

As you already know, I am a Positive Reinforcement (Force-Free) Dog Trainer. Something I see ALL of the time is people using abrasive collars on their dogs such as pinch, choke, or shock collars. As a PRDT, I do not use, nor train people to use, these methods as it is scientifically proven to be detrimental to your dog’s training success. It may seem like your dog is walking nicely, but he is only doing it to avoid punishment. Once you put on a regular harness, or collar, you will be right back where you started. This is also associating events that happen on your walk with a negative experience, such as other dogs walking by, children playing, or whatever it may be. You can see how this can have a negative effect on your dog’s psychological well-being.

These forms of collars can cause not only psychological damage to your dog, but also some pretty serious medical issues. Dog’s (same as people) have very sensitive necks that many medical issues, such as hypothyroidism, ear and eye issues, nerve damage, etc, can be linked. If you are interested in learning some of the more serious medical issues that these collars can cause check out this article here. I always walk my dogs on some sort of harness, whether it be no pull or regular, depending on your dogs walking style, and I always recommend my clients to do the same.

Pinch/Prong Collars

Pitbull-prong-dog-collar-pinch-collar-prong-collarWhen we first got Kali, she was terrible on leash, a huge puller, very typical Malamute. I hadn’t tried any forms of “no pull” devices yet, and wasn’t very educated in the subject. Off I went to the pet store to ask some questions and see what they recommended for us to try. The FIRST item that they recommended was a pinch collar. Not only, did they not give me any other choices, they also said that this is a “humane and pain-free” option to teach your dog not to pull. Pain-free??? I would like to see her put it on her neck and give it a good yank. When there are are tons of pointy pieces of metal jutting into your neck, it is not “pain-free.” Thankfully, I questioned it, and ended up trying out an easy-walk harness instead. ALWAYS QUESTION PEOPLE IN THE PET INDUSTRY, INCLUDING TRAINERS. If you think something is off, or are not feeling comfortable with a certain technique or recommendation, ask as many questions as you need to. Also, go with your gut, it will usually guide you in the right direction.

Many people say that the prong collar “emulates the correction of a mother’s teeth.” This is A MYTH and is not correct. These collars can cause many health issues, as mentioned in the article above, and can go as far as becoming embedded in your dog’s neck. One quick jerk is all it takes. The more pressure you are putting on your dog’s neck, the more pressure they will feel emotionally. You want your dog to remain under threshold the entire time you are on your walk, this will be next to impossible with this type of tension on their neck. Dog’s have a natural instinct to pull forwards when something is pulling them back, therefore making the entire experience painful and frustrating. The behavioral issues that this can cause your dog are limitless.

If you would like to take a more in depth look on the effects of this type of collar, check out this article here.

Choke Collars

choke-dog-collarChoke collars have basically the same negative effects on your dog’s mental and physical health as the prong collar. One of the big differences is however, that they can choke themselves to death. There is nothing stopping this type of collar from tightening to the point of actual choking on your dog’s neck. Again, the natural instinct of your dog to pull away from something putting tension on their neck comes into play, causing a negative experience on walks, as well as a negative experience relating to the surroundings. For more information about the effects of the choke collar, check out this article here.

Shock Collars

D58134All of these collars have similar negative effects on your dog’s well-being, however the shock collar is a whole other ball game. Some people say that the shock is just like a tap on the shoulder, while others say that it is more of a zap, similar to sticking your finger in a electrical socket. Well, which is it? It seems that only a dog can answer this question, and since they can’t tell us, it is important for us to know their body language. A dog who is being trained positively has a loose body, tail wag, open mouth, and they show a willingness to learn and please you. A dog being trained with a shock collar will have a closed mouth, possibly yawning, stiff body and tail, ears back, whale eyes, and a general nervousness about them.  For more information about shock collars, check out this article here.

Notice the body language of the dogs in these pictures? Stiff postures, ears back, and on high alert. If you ever see a dog wearing one of these collars, compare their body language to that of your positively reinforced dog. There will be a huge difference between them.

Wouldn’t you rather focus your training sessions and walks on the positive, rather than on the negative? You especially do not want to use any of the aforementioned training methods with a fearful or aggressive dog. These techniques will just enhance their issues and very likely cause more harm than good.

What kind of collar does your dog wear? What worked for you when training your dog to walk on leash? Let me know in the comments below!

DNA Results Are In!

I finally sent in Kali and Nanu’s DNA tests and got the results just over a week later. I know many people are skeptical but I believe that they have some merit to them (as it is the same or very similar technology to a human DNA test). You can also purchase the tests from a variety of dog rescues for $10 so buying is contributing to a good cause.

Kali and Nanu

Kali and Nanu

How it works:

Every dog has it’s own unique DNA. The test itself is an easy cheek swab, and then you send it in and they look for DNA matches in their extensive database of dog breeds. DNA my dog claims that they match every breed that is found in your dog. Yep, it is THAT simple!

Once you receive your results, each breed match is categorized into a level. These levels indicate how prominent each breed match is in your dog’s DNA.

  • Level 1 This category recognizes when a dog’s DNA contains a majority of one specific breed (75% or greater). A dog will only report with a Level 1 breed if they have a high percentage match to a single breed in their DNA. Most mixed breed dogs will not usually have a breed in this category unless one or both of their parents are purebred.
  • Level 2 This category reports breeds that may be easily recognizable in your dog. Each breed listed makes up between 37%-74% of your dog’s breeds. Dogs with a large mixed ancestry will not normally have breeds reporting at this level.
  • Level 3 This category identifies breeds that have between 20%-36% of the listed breed(s).
  • Level 4 This category represents 10%-20% of the breed DNA. Dogs with large mixes may have a number of breeds in this category.
  • Level 5 This category represents the lowest level of breed in your dog occurring at 9% or less. These breeds still appear at a low and measurable amount in your pet’s DNA and were likely carried over from several generations.

Results!

Kali was listed as a Husky Boxer mix, and we thought that her more prominent breeds would be Husky and Lab.

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Her Results:

  • Level 2: Alaskan Malamute
  • Level 4: Cocker Spaniel
  • Level 4: Schnauzer

Nanu was listed as a Shepherd mix, and we believed her prominent breeds to be Shepherd, Collie, and maybe some Rottweiler.

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Her results:

  • Level 3: Miniature Pinscher – We were BLOWN away by this!
  • Level 4: Boxer
  • Level 4: Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Level 4: Rottweiler
  • Level 4: Siberian Husky

Have you gotten your dog’s DNA results? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments below!

MUR Adoptable – Josie

Hi friends!

I wanted to share about another beautiful adoptable from Manitoba Underdogs Rescue who has a soft spot in my heart, Josie. If it were up to me, I’d be adding Josie to my pack. Unfortunately my partner is at his dog limit (for now) so I have to settle for co-fostering Josie and helping with her training.

Josie before - note her body is very stiff, her head is down, and her ears are back

Josie before – note her body is very stiff, her head is down, and her ears are back

Before coming into care, Josie was living as a stray in a remote Manitoban community. She was terrified of people and we couldn’t get anywhere near her to catch her, so we had to use a humane trap. Upon arriving to the “big city”, Josie stayed at my house for a few days. I had a “safe place” set up for her including a crate, blanket, food, and water. Crating a dog has a bad rap for being “cruel”, but in reality, dogs need a safe place that is always available for them if they are feeling anxious, nervous, have a special bone to chew, or need to take a nap, most dogs love having a crate.

After an initial behavioral assessment, I determined that there wasn’t a mean bone in Josie’s body, she was just extremely afraid; understandably, as it was her first time in a car, crate and house. You never want to force a fearful dog to do anything, either lure them with treats or wait them out. With Josie, I wanted to take her outside, so I started with offering her food and water, then experimented with some other snacks. During this process I did not give any eye contact, I sat a fair distance away where she didn’t have to walk right to me to leave the room, and I had my side facing her. Body language, both yours and the dog’s, are very important when working with dogs like Josie. Turned out, Josie was a big fan of hot dog buns so I left a little trail of crumbs and eventually she came out of the kennel and off we went into the backyard.

At this point, Josie was a flight risk so even though I have a fully fenced yard, I kept her on leash at all times, even inside the house. Once outside, it was a bit of a challenge to get her back inside. I left a trail of treats going inside the door and turned my back as to not intimidate her, eventually we made it back in, and she bee lined straight for her kennel. That was what we did for the next few days, going out and back in, which got increasingly quicker each time. By the second day, she would even stop to check out the house before heading back to her crate!

It turns out that Josie LOVES other dogs, and her foster sisters have been great influences on her! Dogs can be the best teachers, or the worst, depending on their habits. Josie now walks right inside with my girls because she learned from them that it is safe to walk past me when I open the door. They also taught her to walk on the leash and that it is a fun activity rather than an intimidating, scary one.

Josie fitting right in with my girls at their favorite lookout spot!

Josie fitting right in with my girls at their favorite lookout spot!

Josie has now been in care for just over three months. I continue to work with Josie, getting her used to different items and experiences, like the collar and leash, and checking out new environments. Josie now walks right into my yard with confidence and molds right in with my pack. We even have her coming on our walks and greeting people at the door. Needless to say, when Josie finds that perfect family, she will also come with a couple of humans who will need some visitation rights!

Josie after - note her body language, ears perked, loose body, head and tail up

Josie after – note her body language, ears perked, loose body, head and tail up

Interested in adopting this sweet girl? Check out www.manitobaunderdogs.org/ for more information!

Hope this blog is helpful for those who ever need to work with timid/semi-feral animals. If you’ve had your fair share working with timid/semi-feral animals, I’d love to hear what steps you took to help them transition to life as a pet!

Kali and Nanu!

I think it is a good time to introduce you to my fur family!

Our first was Kali, a 1.5 year old Husky Lab mix from Manitoba Mutts Dog Rescue. I knew I wanted to get a dog as soon as we bought our house, however, my significant other was a bit hesitant (he never had any dogs before). My suggestion was to start with fostering, a GREAT way to decide if you are ready for a dog at no cost to you, so he agreed. The first Friday in September I picked up Kal. Needless to say, she was only our foster for 2 days before we adopted. She fit in with our lifestyles so perfectly, she is calm (most of the time), LOVES kids and other dogs, and loves to run and be outside.

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After adopting Kali we decided to take a break from fostering. WELL that turned out to be harder for me than expected so when Kevin went on a guys trip to Mexico I got another foster, Sam (I know, I am sneaky like that). Sam is a 6 year old Shepherd mix who loves people, but not so much other dogs. She tolerated Kali and her playful ways but didn’t necessarily enjoy it. She stayed with us for 3 months before getting adopted. After Sam left us we decided to take ANOTHER break…Harder than it sounds, a week later we got our third foster Nanu, a 2 year old Shepherd Husky mix, also from Manitoba Mutts. Between Kali and Nanu it was love at first sight, they instantly bonded. They play together, snuggle, and share a love for rabbits and squirrels. After fostering Nanu for about 6 weeks we knew we just couldn’t break them up. Nanu is very calm, loves to snuggle with her humans, and have a good play when the time is right!

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We have had Kali for almost a year now, and Nanu for about 6 months. They love going with us to the lake, riding in the boat, and watching us play softball. They are obsessed with the window and could sit there looking out for hours. Their favorite past time for the last 2 months was our mama duck and her eggs. She set up camp right outside our front window and the dogs would scare away anything that came near her nest.

Kevin has officially met his quota for dogs (mine is a bit different) and after adopting 2 out of 3 fosters, I am not allowed to foster for longer than a few days….I am working on these “rules” and will keep you posted on any further developments!

Hello!

I will start by introducing myself, my name is Dez McKay, and I am an animal enthusiast. My whole life I’ve lived with and loved dogs. We always adopted our pets from local animal shelters. Our first was a Border Collie/Husky Mix, Max. He was an amazing boy who loved to play and be outside! We also adopted Ted, the Lhasa Apso who loved to snuggle. Next came a Toy Poodle named Tiny Bubbles.His name suited his personality perfectly! My parents now own a 6lb Miniature Pinscher adopted through Hull’s Haven Border Collie Rescue. They have always had a soft spot for helping animals in need and I am the same way. I currently have two rescue dogs of my own from Manitoba Mutts Dog Rescue, a Husky Lab mix and a Shepherd Husky mix. More info on them here!

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In 2009, I moved into my first apartment where no pets were allowed. This was a big adjustment, but I wanted to continue being around animals. I started volunteering for a local rescue group walking foster dogs. I loved being involved in the dog rescue/welfare community and am now involved with D.R.E.A.M. (Dog Rescue Education & Advocacy of Manitoba) as the Spay/Neuter Program Manager.

Through my volunteer work, I realized my true passion for animals, in particular dog training. I have started practicing under The Noble Hound Dog Training & Obedience and volunteer my time supporting foster homes with Manitoba Underdogs Rescue.

I started this blog to write about my journey becoming a trainer. Along the way, I’ll share helpful tips and exercises, and answer general training questions for all you pet owners.