Be the person your dog NEEDS you to be

Cesar Millan's Short Guide To A Happy DogAlways hungry to learn more about dog behaviour, I read everything I can get my hands on from training to nutrition, from grooming to breed histories, from psychology to animal anatomy. When you are passionate about something, your thirst for knowledge never runs out. Even with everything that I have read, I have never learnt so much in only 205 pages.

If I could recommend one book to dog owners everywhere it would be Cesar Millan’s Short Guide to a Happy Dog. It simply and beautifully sums up what everyone needs to know in order to live harmoniously with their furry companion and so much more. Even if you do not have a dog, this book can help you. Cesar outlines more than just what it means to have a happy animal in your life, but how you too can live a life that is fulfilled.

Cesar stresses throughout the book that in order to be a successful dog owner one must be a true pack leader and the recipe for that is as simple as 3 basic things: 1) exercise 2) discipline 3) affection – given in that exact order. If you have ever watched Cesar’s shows you are familiar with these 3 golden rules. This is something my staff and I practice and work on every day with the dogs in our pack at The Dog Haus. We work with the dogs to meet their physical and mental needs and reward them with affection. This helps them to know their place within the pack, to behave in accordance to that, and most important enables them to relax and simply be a dog! When dogs do not have to worry about where their owner is or have pent up energy from not getting enough exercise, they are more balanced and know how to get along with others and have fun! What we all need to remember is that dog’s require strong leadership, they need an outlet for excess energy, they crave direction, and they strive to please to earn affection.

Not being a strong leader puts unnecessary stress on our dogs creating an anxious, unhappy pet. What many people don’t realize is a dog’s confidence is a reflection of its owners.  A nervous dog is anxious because it picks up nervous energy from it’s owner. If we wear our stress, then so do our dogs. Being calm and confident may not be easy for everyone, but if you work at it, your dog will help you to be the confident person you want to be. How, might you ask? By applying the same 3 golden rules to ourselves, 1) exercise 2) discipline 3) affection. Exercise helps to relive stress, discipline gives us purpose and drive, and giving and accepting love provides us with fulfillment in life. When all three are combined our mood and our lives are dramatically improved and a more confident individual is born.

Not many people know, but I have suffered from ongoing depression and anxiety since the age of 16. It became so overwhelming that in my early 20’s there were times I could not leave the house. Then came along Carmen and everything got better. She gave me structure and purpose in my life. She also provided me with daily exercise through our walks, discipline through training her and affection with her companionship. Every morning, I got out of bed to do something for someone else. To fulfill an essential need for her and that gave me hope each day. We went new places together and met new people. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone which built up my confidence. Through it all our bond grew stronger. Fast forward to now where I have pursued my dream and am the successful owner of my very own dog daycare. That shy, insecure little girl is just a distant memory. I have also witnessed my staff evolve into more confident people because of the affect of working with animals. Being around 30 dogs in a pack you definitely have to be comfortable with who you are and how you project yourself to the world. Energy is everything in the dog world and I have so many dogs to thank for my personal growth over the years.

The moral of this story is that your dog needs to you be a role model. To be strong, confident each and everyday. So tell yourself when you wake up, before you head out for your morning walk, that you are going to be the person your dog needs you to be; a strong, confident pack leader who fulfills her every need. And remember, have fun too! Now go read this book, you and your dog will be better because of it!

Sunday Fun-day at Woofstock 2014


What a wonderful day we had today! The sun was shining and Toronto was hopping with people and pets all gathering for Woofstock – North America’s largest dog festival! Every summer this fabulous event attracts thousands to come and spoil their dogs rotten with treats, toys, and apparel. But, that’s not why we go. Woofstock is much more to us; it has become our little family tradition.

The first time I ever went to the festival, I had only had Carmen for 2 weeks! It was quite an outing for us. With so many people and dogs and sights and sounds I knew it would be a fantastic way to socialize her and earn her trust. I was completely surprised to see how this little mutt from Mexico was so well adjusted that she just wandered through the crowds no problem, following me as I lead her down busy city streets. I could tell it was a lot for her to take in though when she was exhausted just after half an hour. Since then, we’ve been every year, marking this Woofstock our 4th anniversary and it was just as fun as the first time.

We still go to this event, partly because of the nostalgia, but also because we still find it a great way to social our dog as confident as she already is. Plus Carmen loves it! No Woofstock event is ever the same either. There are always different dogs, new smells, new goodies, and new places. Carmen gets to greet people and other dogs, and take in all that is this wonderful festival has to offer. This is what has helped her to be the little social butterfly that she is.

Today we spend 3 hours enjoying the sunshine and company of fellow passionate dog owners. Carmen slept the whole ride home and is still exhausted! Not only did we all have an absolute blast, but Carmen’s exercise, mental, and social needs were all meet. Mission complete! What did you and your dog get up to this weekend?

Well mannered pooches don’t jump up


A perfect greeting. Photo by Liz Foley

Keeping your dog’s four feet on the ground is important for greetings, whether meeting humans or other dogs. It is a common misconception that an excited dog jumps up. People often think that their dog is just happy to see them or trying to hug them. The truth is, the dog is asserting himself over his owner. Jumping up is a sign of dominance. I’ve often seen my dog discipline young pups who come barrelling at her with paws all over the place. A dog that runs up and places paws on her face or back without first allowing for a proper handshake (smelling each other as a way to say hello) is flat out rude. Dogs must first be invited into the personal space of others. You wouldn’t just run up and tackle someone you were meeting for the first time, would you?

Dogs whether big or small need to learn that greetings do not mean jumping up. Large dogs can knock children or the elderly right off their feet doing serious damage. Small dogs need not be excused either, their little nails can easily break skin. I have heard of many of these “excited, happy dogs” greeting people inappropriately and quickly being called aggressive because of the hurt they have caused


Carmen and her friend Bernie waiting to greet nicely.

What can you do to teach your dog to greet properly? If you know your dog is going to jump up, make sure they are on leash before greeting people or pets. Interrupt the behaviour before it happens by keeping your dog calm and placing him in a sit. Practice greetings with dogs and people you know who are willing to work with you. If your dog goes to jump, pull back quickly to prevent making contact, place him back into a sit, and try again when he is calmer. Ask people to not acknowledge your dog until the dog is calm. Petting the dog after he or she has just jumped up is rewarding the behaviour. With patience and consistency, your dog will learn that he only gets to meet once he is settled with all four paws on the floor and will be rewarded for it. The more dogs and people your dog meets the more opportunities you have to correct the behaviour.

If your dog jumps up on you, you can still use the leash trick but instead stand on the leash preventing the dog from jumping up in the first place. Dogs are quick learners and just need guidance. We must teach them how to properly greet everyone before we can expect them to do it right. Set expectations for your dog and keep them.

Fireworks, thunderstorms, and loud noises, oh my!

The best defence is a good offence. This awesome piece of advice believe it or not works wonders with dogs, especially those who are anxious around loud noises. Being able to predict what your dog is going to do before he does it, like how he may react to a sudden BOOM, will help to curb the behaviour. That means being aware of your dog and their surroundings to prevent negative behaviours so that you don’t have to correct them. Always be 10 steps ahead of them. Easy enough, right?

Sometimes it is! You may not be able to predict thunderstorms (nor rely on weather reporters for any help) but you can prepare yourself and your dog for when there will be fireworks. On holiday long weekends you can expect there will be fireworks that light up the sky once it’s dark out. The loud noises accompanied by such a beautiful sight can be frightening for your furry friend. Dogs may pace, shake, become destructive, or even run away. No one wants to see their pet in distress, so what exactly can you do?

Fireworks at Disney - Thomas Hawk, Flickr

Fireworks at Disney – Thomas Hawk, Flickr

Keep your dog indoors and whatever you do, fight the urge to caudal your dog! I cannot stress this enough. Petting and telling him, “it’s okay buddy” actually reinforces the dog’s anxious reaction. Instead of comforting him, you are confirming that the dog is reacting appropriately. You have now trained your dog to be frightened of loud noises. Instead, be proactive and exhaust your dog well before the fireworks go off. If your dog usually goes for an hour walk a day, go for a 3 hour hike! Tire your dog out so that he won’t even notice the sounds. During the fireworks it is important that you stay calm yourself. If you are startled by the sounds your dog will think he is supposed to do the same. Dogs pick up very easily on our energy so if you are frightened it will rub off on your dog. Try playing loud music to drown out the sound and distract you both.

Always remember that being proactive helps and you can even prepare your dog for certain situations before they happen. If you have a puppy and you don’t want him to be startled by loud noises, try desensitizing him to the sounds by playing thunderstorms and firework clips off the internet in your own home when he is in a calm, relaxed state. Act normally and if you remain calm your dog will too. Walking your puppy on busy streets where there are buses, cars honking, and kids on skateboards are also ways to socialize your dog and expose them to unpredictable sounds that could spook them later in life if they are not used to them.

Try out these methods this Victoria Day when the fireworks sound. Hope you and your pet have a safe and enjoyable long weekend!

Did you know full moons can affect a dog’s behaviour?

Howling at the moonLast night I awoke in the middle of the night to my dog, Carmen, howling at the moon in her sleep. This is something she does every so often when there is a full moon. She is then completely exhausted the following day. This is something I have come to learn and love about my dog. It is also a little reminder that though she is my pet, she is still an animal decedent of the wolf.

At The Dog Haus, my staff and I mark down on a calendar every full moon in order to prepare ourselves. At the daycare we’ve seen some bizarre things happen around full moons. Dogs can often become unpredictable, extreme versions of their personalities or the exact opposite. A calm dog can become incredibly hyper, while more active dogs can seem lethargic. Friendly dogs can seem cranky and irritable. Hyper dogs become even more hyperactive, which can be hard to believe.  I’ve witnessed dogs that I never thought would become friends, play the whole day together. Working with dogs you have to be very aware and expect the unexpected when there’s a full moon, but I also recommend dog owners pay attention to full moons and how their own dog reacts.

Clients have told me their dogs have eaten weird things (dvd cases, converters, under ware…just to name a few), not eaten at all, made messes in the house, or acted out aggressively, when they’ve never done so before. Pay attention to what changes in your dog as a dramatic change in behaviour can often be attributed to full moons. Typically at the daycare we see extreme changes 2 days before and 2 days after a full moon, but each dog is different. Know your dog and how he or she will react. My best piece of advice is to stay clear of dog parks during this time as you never know how a strange dog could behave during this time and it’s better to be safe than sorry. You may be able to predict your own dog’s behaviour but not that of one who is unfamiliar to you.

To help you start your own ‘full moon tracking calendar’, the next full moon will occur on June 13.

Have you noticed any changes in your dog’s behaviour over the last few days? Sound off in the comments below and let me know!