Sep 30, 2022
I am honoured to have been named Pet Psychologist of the Year for 2022.
As I reflect on this news, it occurs to me that each of us can share stories about friends, neighbours and colleagues who have lovingly adopted and brought into their family a new dog. The reality is an adopter's experience with new dogs is often riddled with unease, similar to inviting a stranger into the home. I have observed many families struggling with a new dog. One that perhaps barks and lunges at visitors, snaps at other family members when snuggled on the couch, or continuously howls when they leave for work each day. It occurs when the dog exhibits behaviours and emotions that defy logic and rationale and causes wariness and confusion.
Loving dog parents will take logical steps to "fix" their dog’s behaviour problem. They would engage with Vets, Trainers and Obedience Coaches in the hopes of getting "tips and tricks" to cure the dog’s issues and establish a balanced family dynamic. More often than not, I saw it didn't actually work(1). What I found lacking in bringing home a new dog with behaviour issues was a psychology-rich, evidence-based, scientific approach to behaviour work that engaged both the dog parents and dog’s mind, body and behaviour.
It also became clear that without this approach, dogs with challenging behaviours are regularly returned to the shelters citing obedience issues and behaviour problems. The community burden of dogs being returned to shelters in Canada has been widely broadcast on the news.
Psychology of Humans and their Dogs
A unique service was needed to evolve both dog parents and their adoptees and to achieve a united family with a close, bonded, and cooperative relationship. This was the catalyst for developing the PivotalChange.ca business model, which has proven highly successful in bringing my vision to life: "Changing Behaviours. Changing Lives."
Our practice relies heavily on the psychology of humans and their dogs. We help families to both heal and integrate traumatised dogs into their lives. Our scope extends to any complex problems where persistent challenging behaviours exist. It is why we usually support cases referred to us by vets, dog trainers and dog behaviourist.
On meeting the clients, it was clear the goal of many new dog parents were focused on 'fixing' the dog and gaining ‘obedience’. We begin by elevating this goal to one that ensures lifelong positive change, and provides emotional health and stability to serve the dog, parents and family as a whole. Tapping into the human change dynamics was not new to me. I am a long-time expert and thought leader in Change Strategy with a track record of success in large corporations.
At PivotalChange.ca, we go deeper into the dynamics and interrelationships of the family itself. We consider the processes, structures, and belief structures that create the environment in which the dog exists. It is likely the environment is interconnected with the behaviour issues. Facilitating interviews, psychological assessments, and past experiences inform a strategic pathway developed for the family integration with the dog as its own universe to be optimised.
Serving Families Adopting or Who Adopted a New Dog
PivotalChange.ca started with this simple vision; to design a unique and successful experience, serving families adopting a new dog. From there we’ve created a powerful training program unlike any other in Canada. For the dog-parents, it prompts reflection on the relationship and behaviours they want to achieve and the gap of where they are now. Dog-parent’s psychology, belief systems, emotions, actions, lifestyle, self-perception, self-care, and dog parenting capabilities are reviewed as part of the system. The journey works through the new 'dog parent' to reach the dog, giving both a unique ability to communicate and understand each other emotionally, physically and intellectually. The program debunks myths found in traditional obedience training, that the dog is lesser than and should respond immediately on cue. It provides new learning about the complexity of a dog's emotions and their cognitive abilities to be explored. It empowers families with insights, knowledge and, most of all, observable behaviour changes.
Our programs have proven highly successful in regions we serve, including Toronto/GTA, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, and virtually with clients across Canada. Since launching in 2016, we have brought more than 200 dog families closer together with a one-of-a-kind experience. Client testimonials continue to reinforce that what we do positively changes the lives of not just the dog but the dog parents themselves.
Our lifetime support of clients who have graduated from our program shows the confidence in our program to deliver life changing ways to multi-species families as they evolve and grow over time.
I share this honour with the entire team at PivotalChange.ca who are dedicated to changing behaviours and changing lives.
1 - In our practice, we’ve worked with hundreds of dog-parents who come to us after using a dog trainer or vet to help with behavioural issues to conclude on this opinion. Here are four excerpts from several hundred case reviews:
“After a brief stint with a dog trainer which was once again unsuccessful, I contacted Sparky” - Graeme
“We were highly sceptical at first because our work with other trainers and other family dogs always seemed to require dominant-alpha type training and rough-handling…” Janice
“We love her but are not sure how to help her. I have tried other trainers to help with this and it wasn’t successful.” - Rhonda
“The vet we were seeing at the time in Toronto ended up prescribing us Trazadone after a month or so to help with his issues in the car (he would pant/scream/yelp for entire drives). By about June/July 2019, he was prescribed Fluoxetine for daily use after we tried several techniques to ease his anxiety inside with no luck” - Nicole & Chelsea
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.