As a Canine Behaviourist. I work on many cases with dogs and their families with the sole goal to make their lives work better. Many of these cases are truly fascinating, with each dog having their own unique personalities and quirks, along with their caregivers. I have decided to write about them because their journeys are often inspiring as they illustrate such tremendous commitment of humans to care for their dogs. I want to protect my client's privacy so names and identifying notes will be removed and the stories shaped in a way that demonstrates the challenges and the strategies used to overcome each one. I hope you enjoy these stories and gain insight into dogs' minds and souls.
The beauty and coldness of ginger eyes. For a moment, I hold my breath, as I notice the pupils constrict. His eyes pierce me with distrust and disdain. Then, suddenly, the head swings away. Samson's assessment is completed. I am no threat and smell a little like liver. I swore the air pressure seemed to have shifted as he looked away. This was my first encounter with my client, a stunning male, marmalade malamute, and the complaint was growling, nipping, and aggressive behaviour.
The caregiver was a single business woman who clearly loved Samson. Tall, blonde and well-educated, Kathy hired me to help uncover why Samson was growling so much and if she should be worried for her safety. She wanted to stop the nipping which was bruising her arms and legs.
Samson, after his initial cold greeting of me, took his 90 lb. frame and padded to his blanket, picked up a bone and began gnawing, while Kathy and I sat down to talk.
I learned Samson was adopted at 4-months of age from a questionable breeder. He was never an over-affectionate dog but enjoyed playing and having fun like any young dog does. Samson was now in his teenage years, and still enjoyed play although seemingly on his terms. Adolescence in dogs is a time where great empathy and patience are required. They are often fearful years for a dog whose age ranges from 6 and 18 months, where dogs become aware of themselves, regardless of being neutered or spayed. Hormones may be surging, and complex emotions are intensifying. They wonder who they are and their value within their social circle. It is a delicate and challenging time where the foundation of adulthood are set in place.
Samson, rises and pads over to me as I sit writing on the sofa. He sits down directly in front of me, breathing on my notebook, waiting for attention as scribble Kathy answers to my questions. He 'nokes' my pen (noke meaning a poke with his nose) and the pen slides across the page. He is not to be ignored. I put my notepad aside, taking the opportunity to exchange some communication signals. Samson's tawny eyes are comfortable now, not hard like during my entrance. As I lean forward in my seated position. I am careful to position my face far away from his face, but still allowing him to gaze at me. I squint my eyes and smile. I am saying "Hello" in dog language. I asked him, "May I touch you?" I wait for a response, and then Samson says yes, shifting his large stately head down to my hands resting in my lap, "Yes, you may." I move slowly and rub his neck, my fingers sinking into the most glorious fur you have ever felt. Rich layers of softness, warm and luxurious. I keep my eyes half-lidded (called, soft eyes) and notice the same soft-eyes on Samson's face. Then a growl. and Samson's eyes hardened, seemingly simultaneously. I removed my hand quickly and sat back. Kathy sat up straight, and said, "There! That's what I don't understand!"
I explained the silent transaction that had just occurred between me and Samson, with his final "That's enough!" Samson, in short, had a short tolerance for handling and quite vexingly, wanted affection.
Samson, over several weeks of interaction and study showed his growling was likely signaling frustration and grumpiness. Consider that in his mind, he likely believed he was being very clear in his dog language as to what he liked and didn't like, but it appeared no one was listening. In typical adolescence fashion, he lashed out, escalating his anger to nips. I also believed Samson's trust had been broken. He simply didn't trust Kathy to care for his needs. He likely felt he needed to be hyper-vigilant in training Kathy to notice when he needed to relieve himself, be protected, or when he needed to relax in peace. If Samson could have graded his caregiver, he would have given her a C- which would have broken this kind-hearted, well-intentioned woman's heart. She truly cared deeply for Samson. His signals also seem to suggest a general disappointment in humans. Missing key knowledge on his early formative experiences, I had to assume his frustration, distrust, and subsequent aggression were triggered by an abandonment memory. I also thought it possible the memory resurfaced once I learned of a recent puncture wound Samson received during a play fight with a dog-friend. . He was also very demanding, potentially coming from a sense of entitlement found in many young dogs finding their sense of self. All of these beliefs, interpretations, and choices Samson was acting on, need to be gently guided, with a firm and fair hand.
I committed to helping build a comprehensive plan for Kathy and Samson to build trust between the two of them. Kathy committed to being engaged with the plan; ask questions, provide feedback, and be open to training and receiving help.
A large majority of dogs can be summed up as being all about peace, love, and cooperation. It is their natural state of being. Samson was attached to Kathy, but his love was to be earned and the plan needed to deepen the bond between them. Our strategy needed to address how Samson could shift to become more peaceful and cooperative. We also needed to consider other humans in his social circle that Samson needed to cooperate with (social circle meaning friends and family members).
Kathy needed to be able to communicate clearly and firmly to family members about their interaction with Samson, especially when on a Behaviour Modification Plan. In the past, misguided family members were noted as bullying Samson, physically and mentally into situations he was not comfortable - this had to stop and Kathy had to be the one to do it with Samson watching. Our strategy sought to establish a set structure Samson could always rely on, including a plan to set and enforce ground rules. For Kathy, I needed to step-by-step plan to educate and train her to read Samson's signals and to respond back in a way he understood.
Kathy excelled at the challenge before her. She learned how to read Samson's communication signal, and also to for permission before touching his body. The simple tasks of putting on a harness, cleaning his ears, and checking his teeth were done with respect. It may sound odd to ask for permission, but it helps our human minds to move into the right space of respect for the dog. Also, Kathy was tall in stature and needed to think through and adjust what she was subconsciously signalling to Samson, with her body positioning. Signaling through tone, body language and position, Samson was able to prepare himself to be handled. To understand this, imagine you taking a deep, calming breath before having to engage in conversation with an opinionated relative.
We established a strict daily routine for Kathy and Samson, with a time-based schedule to play and relieve himself. We also increased his feeding schedule, and added in exercises where Samson was handled (not when needed but as a bonding exercise). Bedtime routines shifted to ensure Samson could turn off and fully relax. We introduce several Human-Dog bonding games - instantly a huge success. We also introduced a discipline plan that was kind but firm, with no force. Samson desperately needed ground-rules to be reinforced, without breaking the fragile trust we were building between him and humans. Ground-rules helped him to learn to be a cooperative member of the household. After a few weeks, Samson likely thought he had entered into a dream-life where he was understood and could begin to believe in. The comprehensive nature of the plan worked on many emotional plains to reduce Samson's distrust.
Sitting on the floor, a few delicate threads connect Kathy with Samson. Samson is on his back, with a lolling grin, his mouth soft, his eyes half-closed. Kathy is a little behind his head,, dangling a rope toy over his lips and his front teeth gently grab the fringed threads, connecting them in gentle play. His paws move slowly to tap the rope. Kathy smiles at this lazy efforts,. Samson smiles too, very relaxed, with his stomach exposed - he feels safe. Kathy asks Samson, "Can I rub you?" and Samson grins, "Yes" . Kathy slowly and gently rubs him and then stops, checking Samson's response. There is nothing from Samson. Kathy knows this means it may be giving 'her' pleasure but Samson is only kindly tolerating her. She smiles again knowing that this is Samson's unique personality and that his tolerance of her is a sign of love.
Over three months of diligent care and commitment to the plan, Kathy and Samson are much closer, with a deep bond that is wonderful to see - true affection can be observed. Samson's smiles more having found greater peace in his world and growls less due to grumpiness (I should mention lest it be misunderstood, growling is good, as it clearly warns a person to stop what they are doing). There have been no further nipping or signs of aggression. In addition, Kathy's efforts have paid off and her family has been effusive about the dramatic difference in Samson. Using caregiver guidelines combined with Samson's increased joyful cooperation, the entire family has been enjoying Samson more and were no longer nervous being around him. Kathy's commitment and dedication to her dog Samson is a testament to her long-term loving relationship she now has.
This is only an overview of our Behaviour Modification Strategies and Plans which are extensive and wholistic in nature. We outline in our strategies and plans all aspects of Dogs basic and enriched needs, in addition to practical exercises, games, training and both interim and long-term goals. We train caregivers to execute on the plan, and provide support, encouragement, and refreshers when needed during the execution of our plans. Each plan is highly tailored simply because each dog has a unique personality, complete with distinct beliefs on who they are, who you are, and why they think they should be doing what they are doing. Our plans are updated as new science breakthroughs come to light.
Readers Note: For ease of reading, 'he' is used. Please substitute 'she' if you have a female dog
He lifts his head backward, looking at you with soft eyes, pressing his head into your chest. He is leaning on you, lying on his side and looks at you in his funny little way that you adore. HIs mouth opens and the corners of his cheek stretch just a little and there it is...a small lazy grin that seems to say, "Rub my belly, please?" Who doesn't melt at this display of affection?
When your best friend is in a mental state of comfort, as with all dogs, they will move along a continuum from comfort to pleasure, and why not. It is at these heart-warming moments that you feel the most bonded to your dogs. The endorphins fire and you both feel the pleasure in your relationship.
In my daily career of caring for Guest Dogs whom I have often never met before, my goal is always to achieve an affectionate bond. Nothing is more gratifying than when a Guest Dog slowly comes to you, placing their head on your person and leans in. This is a dog hug, given willingly and joyfully. It can't be forced. I tell you that there is nothing like it in the world. It is also especially gratifying because it tells us that we have bonded with a dog under our care, and that they feel safe, happy and loved.
In our line of work, we don't have a lot of time to bond with a dog. We don't have days, weeks or months. We must achieve an authentic bond within hours of a dog's arrival at the Resort. Our training and skill requires us to be masters at reading dog signals and be capable of sending signals back to effectively shift a dog's mindset from worry, to a relaxed confident state of mind. Then, we must further move a dog's mind from seeing us as strangers to seeing us friends, then from friends to trusted caregivers, trusted caregivers to fun playmates, and from fun playmates, we build towards an affectionate bond. We must do this over a course of hours and we work hard to continuously honed and tweaked our reading and sending signals to our Guest Dogs.
When we are working on behaviourial cases, we support the Caregiver to bond more deeply with their dogs. We examine the way they display affection. We see the good, the bad and the ugly. In a large majority of cases, we see good-hearted Caregivers not reading the signals the dog is giving them accurately. Loving owners want their dog to be affectionate instantly or in some cases, feel entitled to having their dog's affection because they feed and exercise it. Willing affection displayed from a dog must be gifted by the dog himself, and if the mindset of the dog hasn't moved to an affection bond, then they will only tolerate a human touching them. Sadly, we see this sometimes after years of a caregiver and their dog being together. We watch the insistence that the dog loves being hugged, and the ugly faces of dog's tolerating it. In other instances, we take note of the bad body position of a caregiver, leaning over a dog to pat its head, promoting a dog's sense of being low in the social order of his family. We watch owners make their dog sit, hold the jowls to raise their pets head, directly lean over and place a kiss on their nose. All good and kind intentions, but bad execution.
By learning more about how to communicate with dogs, read their body language, and understand how they think, feel and act, we can learn how to develop a deeper and lasting bond, full of willing affection.
To foster your dog's emotional spirit, use this 1-minute booster-shot a day and learn to say in Dog-language:, "Hey I like you and respect you":
This should take approximately a minute, and easy to do daily. By doing this small act regularly, you will see your dog begin to enjoy the moments when you say: "Hey, I like you and respect you." Be patient. If you have never communicated effectively with him to let him know you like and respect him, it may take awhile for it to sink in. Affection is born out of consistent signals that you are to be trusted, that you respect him, and his body, and that you value him in your life.
It is the most powerful gift to have a dog give you their own version of what we call 'hugs'; when their eyes soften, and they lean into you. By respecting who they are as complex emotional beings, and by being patient and focused, this gift can be yours. My wish for you is to take a minute a day and begin unwrapping the gift only your dog can give you; wonderful affection given willingly and joyfully.
2017 Pet Bloggers Challenge
There is a Pet's Bloggers Challenge on, and you must answer the following questions to enter, so here it goes:
1. When did you start your blog and, for anyone who is just seeing it for first time, please provide a description of your site. Would you say your blog focuses more on sharing stories with your readers, or providing a resource for your audience?
I began in March 2016, wanting to connect with those who are passionate about continuously learning to enrich their dog's life through enhanced care and training. My blog focuses on myth-busting behaviour issues, providing resources and answering common questions with up-to-date, modern insights. We connect the dots to force-free, positive reinforcements and behavior issues.
2. What was your proudest blogging moment of 2016?
Receiving a total of 115 Likes for "My Trainer Told Me My Dog is Dominating Me" - it showed I hit the mark with many and hopefully helped redirect efforts to be force-free and providing positive reinforcement to Dogs.
3. Which of your blog posts was your favorite this year and why? (Please include a link.)
Dealing with the Loss of Your Best Friend (http://www.executivepetservices.ca/blog/dealing-with-loss-of-your-best-friend) because it helped many people facing the holidays with a sadness and despair. Sometimes just knowing that it is 'okay' to grieve deeply for a dog is cathartic. I had several notes written to me privately thanking me. It was extremely difficult to write and I was touched by how much it helped others deal with their loss.
4. Year after year, one goal that we all seem to share is that we want to reach more people. What one tool did you use or action did you take this year that had the most impact on increasing traffic to your blog?
It was an action, specifically overcoming the fear that no one wants to hear my voice.
This time last year I was a recognized Executive Consultant working with Global Companies to introduce complex change programs, moving organizations through the maze of new strategies. It was a high-stress, high-paced career and it was impacting me physically, emotionally and personally. My voice back then was authoritative and confident.
I turned my life upside down when my medical team recommended I change professions, and find more joy, a more active lifestyle, and regain my health. We sold our home and moved to a property in the middle of a forest in Muskoka, Ontario (the most beautiful place on earth in my opinion). We opened Executive Pet Services & Resort, and I earned my diploma in Canine Behavior. But there was an identity crisis in all of this and to gain a foothold in blogging it had to be overcome. I had to answer definitively why anyone would want to hear from me? I was new in the field and humbled by what had brought me to this point in my life. So many experienced professional dog behaviourist before me, and I have so much to learn (still).
During my studies I learned that the bridge between humans and dogs is closing. My previous career dealt primarily in Human Dynamics and helping people deal with change. Canine neuroscience and cognitive science were bridging human emotion and cognitive abilities with dogs going through change. They were remarkably similar and I was able to come up with original thinking and connections between the two bodies of knowledge: Human & Canine Behaviour Modification. It was hard a first, to connect the dots in a new way that hadn't been done before, but I had original thoughts and hoped people wanted to learn and hear more, Once I saw interest, well you couldn't stop me writing.
5. Which of your blog posts got the most traffic this year? (Please include a link.) Have you noticed any themes across your most popular posts?
5 Observations to Tell If Your Dog is Bored (http://www.executivepetservices.ca/blog/enriching-your-dogs-world)
People like the myth-busting and new insights into Dog Behavior. They adore learning how to enhance their dog's life. Our readers are made up of dog care advocates and passionate dog owners,/dog enthusiasts.
6. What blog do you find most inspirational and how has it influenced your blog? (Please include a link.)
Theo Stewart's The Dog Lady, whose Blog is called, "Paws for Thought" (http://www.dogidog.co.uk/paws-for-thought). Theo is one of most admired Dog Behaviourist that I follow. Her blog teaches me a lot.
7. What is one thing your readers don’t know about you or your pets that would surprise them?
I don't have a dog. We do foster from time to time but not too often. I fall in love with every dog I meet. Saying I need dogs in my life is an understatement, and when people allow me to care for their dog or help their dog it fills my hungry heart. By staying hungry for dog kisses, dog hugs (where a dog leans into you), and earning the sweet look from soft, loving eyes of a dog, it allows me to put all my heart into their care. My business also provides new innovative "Human-Dog Sleeping Zones" where myself or a professional caregiver monitors the dogs all night to ensure restorative sleep occurs. Having my loyalty be with a four-legged family member while managing group care would be problematic.
8. What is something you’ve learned this year that could help other bloggers?
Write emotionally and passionately while keeping your readers in mind. Visualize their faces when writing, as if they were right in front of you. Speak to them in a respectful and honest manner. Be gentle and kind with your words. Keep your message simple. Oh, and for me, keep working on your proof-reading - LOL!
9. What would you like to accomplish on your blog in 2017?
To change the way people think. To deliver more informed articles to help them make better decisions. To challenge old beliefs and introduce new ones.
10. Now it’s your turn! You have the attention of the pet blogging community – is there a question you’d like answered, or an aspect of your blog that you’d like input on?
I would love to hear from other bloggers about their best marketing campaigns because in small business every advertising dollar counts.
We have just introduced Human & Dogs Sleeping Zones. Just like at home, dogs sleep with humans right beside them, all night long. At the Resort, Professional Dog Caregiver's monitor your dog 24 x 7, and we adjust their care based on how deeply they slept. Why is this important when you're away? We know that dogs have varying levels of stress when they are away from you and sleeping in a new environment adds to the stress and dogs can become quite scared.
New science has shown that better sleep equals better judgement in dogs. Meaning, when your dog is faced with a choice, he is able to use his memories and knowledge to make the best decision.
We wanted to introduce a new way to provide restorative sleep. It has always been important as seen in our Bedtime Service (bedtime stories, massages, zen music and cuddles). Now, we add to our enhanced services, introducing a sleeping zone where we can settle your dog on a cozy bed right beside a professional caregiver, all night long. It is the next step to making your dog happy when you are away. We ensure that any Dog Guest does not have to fight for space, and that they stay warm and cosy all night (yes, we tuck them in to a faux-fur blanket in the winter). We monitor if they are sleeping deeply or restlessly and we have been known to soothe those that are having bad dreams. We also adjust their daytime activities to include longer nap times to be as bright and happy as possible.
As a "Care Facility," things like our Restorative Sleep Program is constantly improved upon and adjusted. Unlike Dog Boarding facilities, where kennels will have one or two dogs panicking through the night, frightened to be all alone, and bark repetively throughout the night, we offer an alternative. We are also unlike Dog Camps, who provide unmonitored, "cage-free" environments which becomes a free-for-all for any aggressive dogs once night falls, often leaving your best friend to fend for him or herself.
When planning your away time, consider the sleeping environment for your Dog's happiness and safety.
Yay! You've booked the vacation of your dreams. Now it making sure it is worry-free and guilt-free. High quality pet care is hard to find but it is out there. Planning ahead is key to finding the right spot where your Dog (or Cat) doesn't feel emotionally bereft or left to face fearful situations without you.
Here is a Worry-Free Dog Vacation Check-List. Use it to help plan a successful trip away where your dog is set up to be well-cared for:
1-2 Months Before Your Tropical Vacation
Readers Note: For ease of reading 'he' has been used, but if you have a female dog, please substitute 'he' for 'she'.
You have to leave your dog for that much needed vacation. Nothing ruins the relaxation of sipping a Pina Colada on the beach then worrying about your Best Friend and wondering if they are okay. If your Best Friend could talk, you could plan the best care knowing what he will tolerate and what he can't. Here is the inside scoop on your Dog's Secrets that he wants you to know when planning for his Vacation Care:
1. He likes his own bed, his home, his food dish, the noises which represent comfort to him, especially when you are away. His vacation care should make him as comfortable as possible when you are away.
2. He notices his stomach rubbling when his snacks are removed from the diet and his stomach aches when his diet changes, and sometimes he doesn't want to eat when you are not there. When your away make sure your substitute understands and agrees to maintain your Best Friend's dietary needs.
3. Without you there, coping in a new place, and/or new people is confusing to him, and sometimes scary. The coolest dog ever may look okay, but their inside feelings are concerned and unsure of what is happening. His daily exercise and puzzles-solving, just like us, should not be removed/shortened when you are away. Like humans, we need them to manage stress and stay calm. Conversely, suddenly increasing their exercise suddenly will also add on unnecessary stress.
4. He needs his sleep during the day and during the night. Noise and disturbance, such as, barking, whining, and restlessness from others, during his normal napping time and nighttime sleep can leave him unable to cope. Restorative sleep and daytime napping has been linked to a dog's ability to make good decisions - especially important when in a new environment.
5. If he can't see you, then let him smell you. Dog's have powerful memories when tied to strong emotions, including love and touch. Scent is also one of their super-powers with a million more receptors than we mere mortals. Leave your scent behind - an old t-shirt you have recently worn, a blanket, a towel or anything that reminds them of a happy, pleasurable time with you.
More to come as we introduce a timely series to help owners think through Dog Vacation Care decisions.
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.