Teaching your dog agility

When most people think of agility, they picture high energy working breeds like border collies and Australian shepherds racing through a challenging course at high speeds. It’s hard to imagine that an activity like this could be beneficial to lower energy dogs, after all the main goal of agility is to burn physical energy… right? Wrong!

It’s true that agility is an excellent way to fulfill dogs physically, but this activity is just as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. Even the laziest of dogs can get a lot out of an agility course simply through the way this activity works their brain. A dog does not have to race through an agility course at top speed to get the most out of this fun and fulfilling activity, as the mental challenge of following their owner’s commands and learning how to complete each obstacle is draining enough!

In fact, when you’re first teaching your dog how to navigate an agility course, I recommend going as slow as possible to make sure they comprehend everything you’re teaching them. After all, pretty much every obstacle in agility will be new to your dog, so they need a calm and patient leader to take their time introducing each and every new challenge. Take the time to teach them how to overcome one agility obstacle at a time, before moving to the next step of having them complete obstacles in succession.

My girl Sprout is a 2 year old french bulldog, which you would think given the stereotypes around bulldogs would mean she’s a lazy couch potato. But this couldn’t be further from the truth! Sprout is a highly intellegent and very active girl who needs constant mental and physical challenges to be fulfilled. As you can imagine, the current state of the world and the increased demand for social distancing is making meeting her needs more of a challenge than normal, but that’s where agility comes in for us! I have found that this wonderful activity is the perfect way for me to challenge her and for both of us to have some fun without having to leave the safety of our backyard! After just a few days of working through the obstacles together, she’s already mastered jumps, the tunnel, and doing both in succession. I coudln’t be more proud, and she couldn’t be more fulfilled! After just a 30 minute training session, shes ready for a 2 hour nap. That’s the power of agility and its ability to burn both her physical and mental energy.

Remember that your dog doesn’t have to be able to complete each obstacle perfectly to enjoy agility – this activity is all about having fun, not about being perfect! The main goal is to have your dog be checked in with you throughout the entire course, and follow your direction to the best of their ability. You’re teaching your dog something that is new, and possibly a little intimidating for them, and that’s why agility is one of the best ways you can strengthen your bond with your dog. Together, the two of you will work through the challenge of learning new things and overcoming new obstacles, and what could be better than that?

If you’re thinking of starting agility at home with your dog, here’s a list of some beginner equipment you’ll need;

  • Jumps with adjustable height
  • A tunnel
  • Weave poles
  • A pause box (a place board will work!)

It’s also important to note that agility does not have to be an expensive sport to participate in. You can find fairly cheap agility sets on amazon, or you can even make your own at home with a few simple supplies! It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be safe and functional!

So get outside, have fun, and learn something new!

 

Blog written by Claire Guistini, Puppy Trainer at The Dog Haus

 

How to prepare your dog for a baby

Are you having a baby? Are you nervous about how your dog is going to be with your baby? Let’s go over some steps so you can help your dog through this transition!

Hi, I am Ashley, and I’ve been working at The Dog Haus as a Pack Leader and Assistant Trainer for over 5 years. My fiancée (Domenic) and I are expecting a baby boy at the end of March. Currently I am 35 weeks pregnant with two dogs at home – Fred, a Golden Retriever-Cocker Spaniel mix & Millie, a Jack Russell-Pug cross. Being as this is such a huge life adjustment for ourselves and our dogs, we are training them now so that they can remain calm and balanced when our son comes home.  Here’s what you can do with your dog to set him/her up for success when your baby arrives.

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Create Calm Associations

Fred and Millie were both previously trained on their “place” command. So, the very first thing we started with was putting them on place and playing crying babies sounds on YouTube. They are soon going to have to listen to this all day long. It was super important to us that they have heard this before in order to understand that it’s no big deal and to relax on their beds. Another “place” exercise we work on is the door bell and people knocking. The first couple of weeks after coming home people are going to be coming over unannounced at all times of the day. If the baby is sleeping and door bell goes off and the dogs go running and barking and wake up baby this could become very annoying and stressful. Why not train them not to react at all? It will make things a lot smoother once our hands are full.

Practice the Walk

Walking your dog is easy right? Now try adding a stroller! You want to make sure that your dog is used to walking beside a stroller while empty so that there is no risk involved when training. We pulled out the stroller and started walking the dogs beside it well in advance so that they grew accustomed to how to follow along beside even with the added distraction. This will make sure that it’s no big deal once baby is here!

Set Clear Boundaries

I recommend starting with the baby’s room being off-limits. Make sure your dog understands that there is an invisible barrier that they may not cross without your permission. Eventually, you can allow your dog to explore and sniff things in the room, but this must be on your terms. Make sure your dog respects this room – you decide what they can and cannot do in that room.

Control The Initial Introduction

Before bringing home your baby, bring home something that smells like the baby, e.g. a blanket that they were wrapped in. When introducing this item, make sure that there is a clear boundary with it and to not promote excitement with the dog. Present the scent and allow the dog to sniff from a distance (a dog’s nose can smell anything from a distance of 12 feet). They do not need to put their nose on it to take in that smell, nor do we want them to. We want to make sure they respect this item and understand that the baby’s smell means calmness and not excitement. Controlling the introduction in this way will allow you to be safe, calm, intentional and prevent the dog from jumping up around the baby.

Once your little bundle of joy has arrived, make sure your dog is well exercised for the greeting. Same activity as the blanket. Making sure your dog gives a respectful distance when smelling the baby. They will already know the smell since you have brought home an item that has the baby’s scent on it. If a leash will help you maintain a safe and comfortable distance I’d suggest that.

Don’t Forget About The Dog

Make sure your dog’s needs are being met daily. If they are not, you may have problem behaviours start to come up through this transition. Dogs need at least an hour of exercise a day. If you cannot provide the dog this, make sure you outsource, e.g. a dog walker or daycare.

Having a baby is such a life changing experience for you, just as much as it is for a dog! Providing the dog with a safe space they can go to and rest if need be is crucial. We have crate trained both of our dogs, and consider that space as their bedroom. With a baby coming home they will probably want and need their crates more then ever. Dogs deserve a space of their own to relax and get away from stimuli that may overwhelm them, so crate training your dog before the baby arrives is something I highly  recommend.

I hope these few tips are helpful to you. Your dog already knows something is changing, because they are so in tune with us and our energy. They do know that something is coming, but they have no idea what that is exactly. So these steps can definitely help getting them adjusted to the new addition. Your child’s safety will always be first, make sure if something does come up to seek professional help with a dog behaviourist.

A year without Carmen

If I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure I’d make it this long without her. I worried losing my best friend would break me in so many ways, that I’d be reduced to nothing. But if there’s anything a saucy, little tripawd Mexican street dog taught me, it was life is what you make of it! So here’s to you my sweet angel. I made it.

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It was a tough year I’m not going to lie. Carmen made it through Christmas 2018 but shortly thereafter communicated to my husband and I that she was too tired to fight anymore. So we did the hardest thing we’d ever have to do, but by far the kindest, and that was to end her pain and suffering. We had a vet come to the house and put her to rest in our living room on a comfy bed, and her favourite blanket. It was clear she found it hard to leave us, just as hard as we found it to let her go. She tried to hold on. I kissed her and repeatedly told her it was ok. She didn’t have to worry about me. I knew she did though. How could she not. She’d been there through everything. Seen all my good times and bad. My sadness and sorrows. My failures, and set backs. But she was also there for every mountain we climbed together. For all the success and happiness. She was the one who helped me see who I really could be. We both worried what I’d become after her. For the first time in 8 years I’d have to do that without her.

Carmen wasn’t just any dog. She was my first dog. Who came at the most pivotal time. I was in my mid 20’s. I was lost. I was afraid, confused and trying to make a life I could be proud of. And then she came to me and everything started to make more sense. I stopped second guessing myself. She gave me courage. Hope. Confidence. Like any best friend in the world, she helped me believe in me. And what’s crazy is, she did this all with patience and understanding while I tried to navigate dog ownership for the very first time. I made mistakes, but like the most gracious of teachers, she forgave me and we became stronger together. 8 years was never enough time. But it was the best time I could have ever ask for.

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I try not to revisit the day she left us in my memory. It hurts way too much. Nothing prepares you for the moment your dog slips away. The days after we said goodbye I was a shell of who I used to be. I allowed myself time to grieve so completely that I thought at one point you could die of a broken heart. I would cry first thing when I woke up, try to hold myself together all day, and cry myself to sleep at night. My eyes were puffy and sore from crying so hard. For three days straight I gave myself permission to feel this low. But I would not allow it to consume me. I couldn’t. I had my 2 other dogs counting on me, my husband, my business…her legacy. And so, somehow I managed to go back to work, without her there. To accept people’s cards, kind words, hugs, and sympathy. I found a strength I didn’t know I had to just keep pushing on. That’s not to say the pain wasn’t still there. I still cried often. But I made a promise to Carmen that I would try my absolute best to do what she would have wanted me to do. And that would be to help more dogs, live with passion and purpose, and be kind to others including myself.

I look back at 2019 and wonder where the time went. It was a year that was both painstakingly slow, and yet passed in the blink of an eye. It was a tough year. Even with some awesome accomplishments, the highs didn’t feel as high without her there. Almost as if achieving things didn’t seem real when Carmen wasn’t there to be a part of it. Instead it was just a sad reminder that I couldn’t be fully happy without my best friend by my side. But I made it nonetheless and though it’s hard without her everyday, it still is something to celebrate. If nothing else, the worst is over. I lost the thing I cherished the most in this world. But my therapist once told me (yes I go to therapy, grief is hard to deal with on your own) relationships don’t die, they only change. I didn’t quite understand nor agree with that when she first said it, but it has since comforted me on the hard days. I know Carmen is not physically in this world, but I still feel her presence. I feel her every time I pull into The Dog Haus parking lot. I feel her when the sun shines on a dark day. I feel her before every training class I teach, every Meditation Walk, every time I go to sleep, every time Ty looks at me with his sweet soft eyes, and every time Baker gives me a stinky kiss. I can sense her when I work with a dog and find that connection. She’s always there, I know it. Watching over me, Jeff, our dogs and the Dog Haus pack. She’ll never leave us. A love that strong just doesn’t die.

I hope this vulnerable blog helps someone else going through the same pain I endured. And if I can share some advice let it be these 3 things:

  1. Give yourself time to grieve. Please don’t burry the pain, that is far too heavy a burden. You’re allowed to feel sadness for losing someone that close to you. Be fair to yourself and have a timeline of how many days you’ll permit yourself to stay in bed, cry and scream if you have to. And then, you must pick yourself up and try to move forward as best you can.
  2. Find support. I am so fortunate to have family, friends, staff, and clients who were there for me during all the hard times getting over the loss of Carmen. But I also found great support in a phenomenal therapist. That way I could talk about all the hard things in a safe space and also learn better coping skills. I’d encourage anyone struggling to find a professional who can offer insight and solutions as well as an objective listening ear.
  3. Take it one day at a time. That’s really all you can do. It is hard but it will get better. And I promise you, you’ll become stronger due to this experience. It will change you. It will open you up if you let it instead of breaking you down.

I do believe everything happens for a reason, and Carmen was a lesson in love and loss. She showed me how you can be strong, vulnerable, trust and let go in peace. And for that I am forever grateful. Good God I loved that dog more than any words in a blog could sum up and I will miss her everyday for as long as I live, but I will cherish all our moments together forever.

Thank you Carmen, for everything!

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Don’t F*CK up Day 1

We can all agree that first impressions are a big deal in life. Whether we’re meeting our partner’s family, or interviewing for a new job, the stakes are high and we take it seriously. People fail to realize though that when it comes to meeting their new dog it could be make or break. Whether you just bought a puppy or adopted a rescue, that first day is crucial to setting up your relationship…so seriously, don’t f*ck it up!

Dogs are extremely in tune with energy. They pick up on the tiniest things. I always tell my clients that the first week of owning your new dog they are studying you, observing and assessing your every move, your routines, what you do and how you do it. And what are we typically doing that first week? Constantly fussing over the new dog. Is she happy? Is she comfortable? Does she love me yet?

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Needless to say, we surrender all power to the puppy. Instead of embodying calm confidence and making a dog feel safe and secure, we create chaos and excitement. We parade the dog around and invite everyone we know over to come and celebrate the newest addition. This is not only overwhelming to a dog of any age, it’s confusing, intimidating, and down right rude. We are inviting complete strangers over to add to the excitement and infringe on the dog’s intimate space, insisting they hold the dog, pet the dog, talk to the dog, and play with the dog.

Don’t see why it’s such a big deal? Well, imagine yourself in the dog’s shoes. Let’s say you just traveled somewhere you’ve never been before, by yourself and you get picked up by strangers who take you to their home. They are shouting at you in a different language, you don’t understand them, or why they are constantly touching you, and have invited over many people to do the same thing….oh and your naked. That’s the life of a dog!

Now compare that to the experience a brand new puppy would have just left a calm, quiet room, where her mother protects her and her siblings. There are clear rules: when to eat, sleep and play. There are boundaries of where they can and cannot go. There are even limits to how intensely they can play with their litter-mates. There is order in their pack which creates a sense of peace, and their mom is a clear leader for them. She is calm and assertive.

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See how completely opposite that is to the life we introduce them to?

All my dogs have been rescues from other countries and I try my absolute best to ensure that they feel safe in their new environment and know the expectations from the start. They may have come from stressful situations, so the easiest way for me to gain their trust and respect is to first show them trust and respect. I make sure to spend one on one time with the dog so we can learn about each other and in the house they have their own space to be left alone. I do not force relationships at the start. It’s like dating, you have to keep some distance to feel each other out at the beginning and then you can grow closer. Most people put all their cards on the table, not allowing the dog room to breathe. That would be like telling someone you love them on a first date as well as listing all your insecurities, deepest secrets and fears and expecting them not to think you’re crazy. That person would take what they wanted and then leave. A dog doesn’t have that luxury. So the dog walks in, takes a step back that first week to assess the environment and everyone in the pack and if there is unbalanced energy and zero structure, that dog will assume no one is in control and therefore take the leadership role.

So if you don’t want to mess up the first day, here’s what you absolutely SHOULD NOT do

  1. Never pet your dog when they are doing a behaviour you do not want. So if it’s barking, jumping, whimpering, or what have you, resist, otherwise you are training your dog to do just that. You get what you pet. So always ask yourself first, how does the dog feel before you pet them.
  2. Don’t let your dog walk all over you…literally. You absolutely must establish boundaries around yourself. Don’t allow the dog to jump on you, lean on you or push you around physically. Dogs only do that to to people and things they don’t respect. Be sure to claim your space and ask your dog to move away from you unless invited in.
  3. Your dog can never pull you on leash. Plain and simple, if the dog is in front they are the leader and you are the follower. Always ensure your dog is walking beside or behind you. This is always easier when you use a proper training tool and start the walk calmly without excitement. If you struggle with this step be sure to contact a trainer who can help or check out my blogs on walking.

So what should you do day 1? My advice to you is simple. Go slow. Be patient. Speak less, listen more. Be a source of calmness not excitement. Give the dog down time to be alone – no one likes to fussed over 24/7. Be clear about rules from day 1. You can always lighten up on rules later, but it’s much harder to be more strict if you’ve already been super relaxed on rules. And that’s why you should never f-up day one!

Good luck…and don’t f*ck it up!

Shut up and your dog will listen

Does your dog have selective hearing? Not come when called? Have behavioural issues like separation anxiety, overexcitement, aggression, or hyperactivity?

Part of the problem may be that you’re talking too much to your pet. My clients are always surprised when the very first training assignment with their dog is to stop talking to them all together.

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First let me be very clear. This is not meant as punishment by giving your dog the cold shoulder or silent treatment. Talking less lays the foundation for better communication and a stronger bond with your dog. Sounds unintuitive, I know.

Let me explain…

The reality is dogs, do not communicate with words, that’s something only humans do. A dog doesn’t call or text it’s best friend about the latest gossip. When you come home and tell your dog about your day, he doesn’t ask you questions or offer feedback. This is because dogs are animals and communicate primarily through energy and body language. A dog picks up on energy instinctually, so when you think about it, words aren’t necessary. Humans are always communicating with their energy and body language and yet are largely unaware of what we’re saying to each other and to our dogs that way. We use words often to complicate, or even mask/lie about our true feelings. But our dog’s are on to us. They know us better than we do and can see through our verbal B.S.

Your dog is always assessing you, how you feel and what you want. They do this by watching how you move, where you are holding tension in your body, and how you are breathing. They pick up on your energy the moment you walk into a room. Our dogs cannot understand the context around why we may be feeling nervous or frustrated but they can definitely sense that something is wrong. That’s why it’s really important to be aware of your energy when you talk to your dog. Not only are you putting your energy onto them, you are also rewarding whatever state of mind they are currently in because talking is a way that we reinforce our dogs behaviour. For instance, let’s say you’re going to your first day at a new job. You wake up early and are flustered while getting ready (first day jitters!). You change you outfit several times. You’re convinced you’re going to be late and so you rush. But before your leave you have to pace the house making sure you’ve got everything you need. Before closing the door behind you, you tell Sparky while giving him a pet, “Wish me luck today. It’s a big day at mommy’s new job. You be a good boy while I’m gone. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home. Promise. Love you!”

Now from your dog’s perspective: He’s observed you fanatically going through your closet, pace the room, and get flustered before leaving him with a soliloquy about all your stress. He followed you while you paced around the house, reflecting your anxiety. And then before you close the door you project all your worries onto him while he is completely unsure about what’s about to happen. You’re anxious, he’s anxious, and his anxiety has been rewarded because you spoke to him and gave him a scratch. And he actually didn’t understand a single word you said. All he got was, “wow, my human is really unbalanced today. And it’s hard not to pick up on that. The good news is she likes when I’m unbalanced too.”

But how does this relate to unwanted behaviours, you ask? You come home and tell Sparky all about your day. But then you ask him to sit before you put down his food dish and he just stares at you. Then you tell him to go out for a pee. Again he just stares at you blankly. Then on a walk you tell him not to pull, to slow down, to stay calm, to greet nicely, not jump up, etc. He completely ignores you. This is because all you’ve done is talk, talk, talk. That at this point he doesn’t know the difference between a conversation versus a command. You’re dog has tuned you out because you sound like Charlie Brown’s Teacher.

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Let’s review.

  1. We are always communicating to our dogs – through our energy and body language. Words aren’t necessary.
  2. When you talk to your dog you’re reinforcing whatever state of mind they’re currently in (anxious, excited, fearful, etc.)
  3. Talk to your dog when they are calm and when you have something important to say (like a command)
  4. When we speak to our dogs less, we will observe more
  5. Let’s face it, we talk to our dogs for our own benefit – not theirs. They really won’t miss it so don’t feel bad for them.

So here’s a tip. Zip it! Talk less to your dog and only say what is necessary. All of my clients say that even though it’s hard to do, they see HUGE improvements immediately. A calmer dog. A dog that actually does as he’s told. A dog that’s more checked in with them. So try it for a week (yes no talking to your dog for an entire week) and let me know the difference you see. And if you’re struggling call your mother…or your therapist.

Stay Calm Assertive!

Liz

7 Tips to finding the best Puppy Training

Being a puppy parent can often be overwhelming; there are so many decisions to make! What should I feed them? When should I start introducing them to new dogs? What kind of toys should I get them to help with teething?

But one of the biggest and most important decisions to make regarding your new puppy is where to take them for puppy training. Puppy’s brains are like sponges; they soak up all the information around them which is why it is vital that the training you do with them reinforces behaviours that you want and starts them off on the right foot. But with so many different puppy training options out there, how do you choose what is best for you and your puppy? Here are 7 major things to look for when researching training for your puppy.

Class size and trainer to client ratio

  • Small class size is best (7 or fewer puppies per class)
  • More puppies means more excitement, which will hinder you and your puppy’s ability to focus on what is being taught
  • Look for a trainer:client ratio of approximately 1:3
  • More clients per trainer means less one-on-one time between you and your trainer

Cleanliness of the training environment

  • Puppies are more susceptible to illness so it is important the the facility you take your puppy is properly cleaned and sterilized to ensure your puppy’s safety

The facilities ability/willingness to answer your questions beforehand and provide a tour of the facility

  • It is important that any facility you are considering using for training is willing to answer any questions you have prior to signing up for their classes
  • They should also be willing to give you a full tour of their facility so you can get a behind the scenes look

Do you agree with the training method and philosophy?

  • It is important that you are comfortable with what you will be teaching your puppy and how
  • Look on their website or email them to see what method they use (ie. positive reinforcement, dog psychology, etc.) and be sure it aligns with your beliefs

Amount of in-class practice time and hands on instruction

  • Each class should provide about 20 minutes of trainer instruction/demonstration followed by AT LEAST 30 minutes of practice time for you and your puppy
  • There should also be ample one-on-one time with you and the trainer to ensure you are given proper feedback on your technique

Is there additional information provided (ie. handouts, training books, etc.)

  • Training shouldn’t end as soon as each class is done
  • You should be sent home with additional training information on what you have learned in class to be sure you can continue practicing at home

Price isn’t everything!

  • Be aware that sometimes the cheapest option isn’t the best
  • You get what you pay for!
  • Many times, what you are paying for is the trainers experience, so low price point may mean inexperience. If a trainer has put in the work and education, it won’t be cheap to hire them and trust me, that’s a good thing.

So now you know how to find the best training class for you and your pup. What are you waiting for? Training should start right away, so find one and sign up so you can set you and your dog up for success. And if you’re struggling finding one that fits your needs, check out our upcoming Puppy Essentials.

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3 Fun activities to do with your dog in extreme weather

Extreme heat and cold make it next to impossible to provide our dogs with their daily needs. Taking them out for walks in freezing cold or brutally hot days is not only unpleasant, but can be life threatening. Dogs, like humans, can suffer from frostbite, hyper and hypothermia. So what can you do to still give your dog the mental and physical stimulation she needs daily? Here are my 5 safe activities to do with your dog whether it’s 30 below or 40 degrees celsius.

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  1. TREADMILL – This is a great solution to still give your dog some exercise, not only for their body but also their brain. The dog has to concentrate on moving forward at the same pace, making it a challenge and very different from a free for all out in the backyard. Slow and steady means they have to think and so this activity can tire them quite quickly as it does double duty. Hire a trainer educated in Dog Psychology who can show you how to safely introduce your dog to the machine as this takes time and patience. For safety reasons, never leave a dog unattended on the treadmill and have them go slow. It’s not about speed, it’s about a mental challenge.
  2. HIDE & GO SEEK – This is also a mental challenge for your dog and also a fun game that can strengthen your bond. There are two versions of this game you can play. One is with you hiding, and the other is if you hide your dogs favourite toy. Putting your dog in a sit stay, leave the room and hide then call your dog. This activity is great for engaging a dog’s nose which is instinctual to them. It also helps to improve their recall by waiting until you call them to search you out. Make sure you praise your dog lots when they find you so that they can feel good about it and continue to want to play. Hiding your dog’s toy is an added challenge. For this I recommend using the “find it” command. Start with easy spots, down low to the ground where it’s clearly visible, and then increase the challenge by hiding it high up or under things. I strongly discouraging using treats for this game as it can promote searching out food and can lead to counter surfing. For really cleaver dogs, hide more than one toy and ask them to find a specific one (ie – find your green ball, or find Teddy).
  3. INDOOR SHOPPING – Many people are unaware that there are indoor dog friendly destinations. Of course you have your pet stores like Ren’s, Pet Value and Pet Smart, but places like Indigo, Marshall’s, Michael’s and Canadian Tire are also spots you can take your dog. If you are looking to do some shopping, why not take your dog with you for an outing that gives them some socialization? This will surely tire them out on days that are too chilly or hot to go outside! I recommend you call in advance just to ensure that they are indeed dog friendly. This is only ideal for dogs who are already well socialized with humans. If your dog needs to work on his friendliness towards people, this is not the activity for you and you should work with a trainer before ever attempting this as all it takes is one bad experience to make a place no longer open to canines companions.

So there you have it! There’s no excuse really to giving your dog some fun even when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Dogs, like humans, can get bored and need exercise and mental stimulation everyday in order to be fulfilled. If they don’t get what they need they will entertain themselves with destructive behaviour in the home and you really don’t want that.