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Basic Training

To most of us, our dogs are not just our pets ~ they are a part of our family. And just like our children, they need to learn good behaviours and basic manners so that they can become healthy and happy members of society.

So, you may be asking yourself, this is very good advice but what is basic training and how do I implement it with my Golden? One of the most important aspects of basic training involves instilling good manners into your pet. We all want our Goldens to have good manners. No one likes to have their dog jump up on their guests, bark at them or play bite when they come to visit. Manners also include such things as teaching a dog to drop an item on command as well as sitting on command.

Another aspect of basic training involves learning how to behave while on a walk. How many times have you been on a walk with your dog and instead they end up walking you? Pulling at the leash is a very common problem for dog owners and one of the top issues we deal with in basic training. The key here is focus – getting your Golden to focus on you so that you are leading the walk.

Finally, basic training also involves learning basic commands such as heel, sit, down, stay, come, and lie down.

Dogs need a defined alpha leader in their pack and if you’re not the leader then they will. This can lead to a whole host of anxiety and problems including barking, pacing, and refusing commands. It is critical that you establish yourself as the alpha leader. Your Golden will be more calm, obedient, and happier knowing all the house rules. And your walks will be a dream!

Leash handling is the ability to connect with and direct your dog to anywhere you want them to go using your leash. Operating your leash is as important to leading your dog as the reins on a horse.

The art of the technique is keeping the leash loose at all times. The only time it should ever be tight is for that split second when you’re correcting your dog and then immediately returning right back to a loose leash again. The more you hold back on a tight leash, the more your dog is going to pull against it. This is where human instinct fails. As humans, our instincts tell us to hold tight on that leash to keep the dog from pulling or getting away. Instead, you need to resist those instincts and practice keeping that leash loose and releasing that collar immediately after every correction in order to accurately mimic the mother’s ‘nip’ at the neck, in the wild.

The onus is on the owner to set up a regular routine and schedule, which the Golden can live and depend upon. Daily exercise, mental stimulation, and rest are all crucial to asserting yourself as the alpha leader. Remember, in the wild, it’s the alpha who controls the freedom of the entire pack. Once your Golden accepts you as alpha, you will notice a significant decline in negative behaviour and your Golden will be considerably more calm and happy overall. Your Golden will follow your commands because you are the leader and they have learned to respect your alpha status.

A dog without basic training does whatever they want to, whenever they want to, so they have no respect for their owner and therefore listen infrequently and obey only when it is convenient for them. Goldens are very intelligent and easily bored. Obedience allows you to work their brain and keep their minds and bodies active, which is what they really want in their relationship with you.

Remember: A tired dog is a happy dog, and a happy dog is a healthy dog!

Counter Surfing

There are a few effective approaches to the nuisance of counter surfing. The first option will require you to be in the room and the second will establish that under no circumstances is it permitted for your Golden to jump on the counter.

This first ‘setup’ is meant for any age of dog that is displaying interest in your food. Always keep your reaction both age and sensitivity-level appropriate. While you nibble on a snack, allow your pup to show interest. He mustn’t climb up or pester you – just allow him to watch. As their natural intelligence processes the options ahead, you will gradually make it more possible for him to consider taking it out of your hand or plate. Do not warn him about leaving the food. You don’t want to inadvertently teach him good behaviour is only necessary when you’re in the room. When the moment comes that he makes a move towards the food, you will startle him with a gasp or small yelp. Then praise him for backing up and go back to eating your food. If they persist, make sure you really surprise them…not by yelling at him but by causing things around you to move and shake. You can bump the table, skid something across the floor…anything to startle them.

You must feel fairly confident that your Golden would never attempt to grab food while you are in the room before you move on to the next step. Regardless of how much your Golden loves food, they shouldn’t think they can steal food. Now you can leave the food on the coffee table and step out of the room. Don’t point out the food and encourage them to go for it. If they follow you out of the room, try again later. Our goal is to suggest we are finished with it and no longer paying attention. If the Golden stays in the room, be aware and be sneaky. If they begin to sniff or put their nose over the table, you must immediately startle them until they stop and then gently praise them. If you have to wrestle them to the ground in order to confiscate the food, training is done for the day. You will go back to the first step for a little while longer.

Counter surfing in an adult dog is a more difficult proposition. As simple as it sounds, if they’re given the opportunity to make mistakes, you’ll be at this for a long time. Keep all counter tops free of desirables unless you’re in the room. Once you put out the bait, you must remain alert. It is preferable to startle your Golden just as they attempt to jump, so your timing in all of this is critical. The general rule for aversion therapy is that the consequence must match their desire. So, whether you are giving a confrontational correction or using simultaneous conditioning, your Golden must be convinced. Using a confrontational approach might help you feel better but can create a lasting negative impact on your relationship. Simultaneous conditioning allows you to remain the good guy while changing the undesirable behaviour of your Golden.

Anxiety in a Car

There are three points to consider when breaking down the cause of your Golden’s anxiety when in a vehicle:

  • Physical ailment
  • Emotional connection
  • Visually or audibly stimulated

It is necessary to note that in any behaviour modification program, you must be aware of routines and the effect of anticipation. Even a very gentle and obedient Golden will balk and refuse to get into the car on their own. For many, a car ride can be a physically distressing experience. They might ‘shut down’, tremble, be overcome by nausea or try to flee. If you are able to determine that the cause for this behaviour is a negative emotional association, then you can begin a program to help them. Unfortunately, some Goldens may never be perfect. If your Golden needs a little reassurance in the car, no harm done as long as it is done safely.

If you don’t believe your Golden has a physical or emotional cause for their anxiety, then you may be dealing with a much more serious behavioural issue. Goldens who become over-stimulated by visual or auditory triggers can often become loud, violent, and stressed out. They can be in danger of harming themselves or anyone who tries to stop them. They might appear calm and happy when first entering the car but with the turn of the key they quickly become agitated. For some, it is the rev of the engine or the movement that elicits a response. For others, it could be the sound of a passing vehicle that causes them to lunge, twirl or become agitated. This is difficult to work through due to the quick escalation of behaviour. Even once you have established the earliest trigger, it isn’t possible to recreate it without losing control. Some Goldens will improve once their senses are taken away. A covered crate in your vehicle might help. Some will need an intense obedience program to keep their mind active and distracted, while others will require a long, drawn-out desensitization program that truly works at curing the issue.

In conclusion, it is necessary to note that in any behaviour modification program, you must be aware of routines and the effect anticipation has on your Golden’s anxiety. As all Goldens are skilled at recognizing patterns of events, it is even more important to note their dependency on it. This means picking up the car keys, whether or not you are taking them, may be an early trigger of their anxiety. If you are working towards correcting this, you have to start at the beginning and change the meaning of the trigger. So now, picking up the car keys means you are going to ask them to do some of their best tricks (with reward). Then move onto some general obedience, while you and your Golden go out the door towards the car. Your next change of routine might be introducing a prolonged ‘wait’ command while you start the car with the doors open. These changes help to bring their brain back into the picture.

Lack of Socialization

Goldens who suffer from a lack of socialization can present extreme reactions when forced into situations they are unfamiliar with. Symptoms can range from fear and panic to reacting with violence. Proper socialization requires two very important components ~ frequent and positive experiences in numerous situations. This means that people, places, and things become a part of your Golden’s daily life.

The secret to excellent socialization is to make your dog think nothing matters. It is important that they can walk past a dog, child or uniformed person and not worry about being corrected, excited or fearful. Actually, if you appear unfazed despite their reaction, they will follow suit. Think about the parent who reacts to their toddler’s fall ~ concern will create tears while a matter-of-fact attitude will develop courage. Of course, this approach works best when there’s been no previous association.

Most of us would agree that a working Guide Dog is the epitome of a perfectly social and well-trained animal. So, take into consideration his first year of life and the foster program’s training. It…

  • Begins in the home and gradually advances to quiet residential areas
  • Introduces the dog to as many different, everyday environments as possible
  • Slowly introduces restaurants, shopping malls, public transit, elevators, etc.

It is a common misconception that social dogs are created by allowing them to greet and play with everyone they meet (dogs, cats, kids, elderly, and all the varieties in between). Some very undesirable behaviours can develop from just such an approach. Many dogs who frequent leash-free parks end up displaying dog aggression. Surprisingly, some dogs with numerous kid-friendly experiences end up with uncontrollable excitability. Dogs with tons of outdoor activity time could develop detachment to anxiety issues! It is not just the variety of situations that you introduce but rather how you reward the comfort level during them. But if you’ve been taking your Golden to the park to play a game of tag and he’s really been running for his life, your pup might just end up incorrectly socialized with all the undesirable behaviours that can go with it. Just because you think it looks like fun, it doesn’t mean he’s developing healthy social skills.

Puppy Socialization

It is between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks that we’ve identified a puppy’s social imprinting period, which simply means during this time you can make or break your pup’s social future. A traumatic experience at this time will have a terrible and sometimes lasting effect even though your Golden will continue to be influenced throughout their life by social settings they experience. So, always being aware of the surroundings you introduce your Golden to.

Each individual pup has their own genetic makeup that encompasses their coping skills, inherent traits, and predisposition. This explains why one pup approaches life’s events with confidence while another reacts with caution. So, it comes back to the critical point that whenever you introduce a new social situation to your pup, it is his reaction that is most important. Any extreme reaction by either one of you can result in negative exposure causing future episodes. So, if you’ve been scooping up your pup every time another dog approaches, you are going to create an anti-social Golden.

Socialization Challenges with mature Goldens

If you are troubled with a mature Golden who displays undesirable behaviour, your solution may be within reach. There are three common causes to consider. The first is a previous negative or traumatic experience, the second is an extreme lack of socialization, and the third is that your Golden is reacting due to a physiological reason. For each of these issues, we will use another dog as the trigger.

Let’s say your Golden had a previous negative experience with another dog. This will most often come across in a defensive reaction. He may panic, lunge, squeal, and possibly attack if another dog were to get too close. Of course, correcting your Golden may feel like the right thing at the time but it will only make things worse in the end. A gradual desensitization program, which takes a distant approach to introducing other dogs, can be a long process but depending on your Golden’s fear and/or violent response, it may be your only option. If your Golden doesn’t appear too traumatized, you can use a positive reinforcement program that treats your Golden (with play, food or praise) every time a dog appears. It is critical you never let the second dog come so close as to prompt your Golden’s reaction. There is nothing wrong if your final goal is just to walk past another dog without incident. It isn’t always necessary nor the right thing to attempt to be friendly with every dog on the street.

Dogs that have been raised in complete isolation from other dogs tend to be more curious and cautious than reactive and aggressive. These dogs don’t rely on past experiences so their reaction depends primarily on their individual coping skills. If your dog routinely reacts to new situations with mild apprehension, it’s going to be a lot easier to convince them all is okay, compared to the dog that trembles, hides or relieves themselves upon the sight of a new distraction. What you use to motivate them must be stronger than their fear. This is the standard approach to a first-time introduction when trying to create a positive experience. Some dogs will be easily bribed with food, while others might need to feel the safety of a barrier before further introduction. Whatever you choose as the distracter, it must be enough to ease their fear. Your goal is not to force interaction on the first introduction. A behaviour modification program can sometimes take months before you see the slightest improvement. If you know the personality of the second dog and believe them to be friendly and playful, you might consider introducing them when your Golden shows relaxed interest. If your Golden copes well and doesn’t use aggression when pushed towards new situations, you may find yourself with some new doggie friends.

Some dogs appear to be anti-social when the real issue is a physical one. This can happen at any age with a dog that has an underlying health concern. Before you attempt a behaviour modification routine, look at all the personality, exercise routines, and behavioural changes that have occurred. In particular, a dog that is hypo-thyroid may appear to be aggressive and intolerant. It takes an experienced eye and a thorough evaluation to pinpoint a potential health concern. Do your best to note any minor changes or abnormal behaviours to help your veterinarian with his diagnosis.

Strong Prey Drive

A domesticated dog with a strong prey drive can wreak havoc on your neighbourhood. The fixation on movement and noise is what we classify as a deep-routed inherent trait…not a learned behaviour. This is typically seen in, but not limited to, guarding breeds.

Whether your Golden chases a squirrel or catches a bird mid-flight, they are likely prone to ignore basic obedience. This dangerous habit can lead to serious injury or even death. Getting hit by a car or getting lost in the woods are all too common for dogs with an uncontrolled prey drive.

It must feel like danger lurks around every corner when your Golden has a compulsion to chase prey. The power of a retriever is often too overwhelming for women, children, and the elderly, so for better control and safe handling, a head halter is recommended.

You have a few options to control this undesirable trait:
Desensitization would be time consuming and it’s difficult to recreate every possible scenario. So, this would be best suited for Goldens who are only focused on single items such as vacuums, bikes or the family cat.
Counter-conditioning usually requires an equal positive or negative stimulus, which means you need to find something your Golden likes as much as what they’re chasing. This technique can also be used with clicker-training.

Regardless of which technique you choose, the safety of your Golden and those at risk must be properly supervised. Accidents can happen at any time, so it is necessary to always evaluate the risks and be prepared for the worst.


Nobody said parenting was easy and the same goes for parenting your Golden. Out of all the bad behaviours, neediness is one of the most annoying, particularly when you have guests. Not unlike a spoiled child, a needy Golden wants all the attention and doesn’t realize that your guests are there to see you and not them. It’s a harsh awakening for a Golden and one they often respond to with ‘needy’ behaviour ~ whining, barking, pawing, nosing, nudging ~ a multitude of rude behaviours designed to get your attention and not leave you alone.

Generally speaking, Goldens have their needs and this is normal, but needy behaviour goes beyond their basic needs into pushy, demanding behaviour. We humans tend to want to coddle our Goldens. While this may fill our own emotional needs, once our Golden feels as if they’re the centre of the universe, that is precisely how they will act. It is best to praise your Golden for being good and not just for being cute. Avoid picking your dog up and carrying it around a lot or allowing them on furniture like the couch or bed. This just elevates them and their status in your ‘pack’ and helps fuel their needy behaviour. Introduce an exercise and training routine and reward their success with lots of love and positive attention. Your Golden will appreciate it, the needy behaviour will cease, your dog will be more calm and relaxed, and your relationship will greatly improve.

Demand Barking

Demanding barking has become one of the most common complaints, so if you are troubled by the repeated calls of the wild from your companion, this section is for you.

The Golden Retriever is a beautiful breed. They are social, happy, playful, and affectionate. Their passion for touch outranks any other breed. A spilled cup of coffee from a persistent nose nudge is a worthwhile risk to owning a Golden. The animated enthusiastic jumping, hugging, and kissing at the front door is often what first attracted us to this particular breed. It is because of our love for this trademark affection that we find ourselves in a pickle. We smile as we clean up the spill, we laugh as our faces are licked clean, and we make no apologies for the excessive amounts of long blonde hair on our clothing. In fact, we will defend their honour if someone opposes it.

At some point the frustration begins to build. The forceful, repetitive demands for your attention can begin to wear on one’s nerves. It may only happen once a day, week or month but when it does, we find ourselves out of control and out of patience. In essence, we’re not out to suppress their zest for life…we just want to be able to control it. It’s our inconsistency that causes so much trouble. In the canine world, life is simple. It’s black or white, yes or no, now or never. Yet we have domesticated the dog into our world where we’ve encouraged them to push past the rules despite their passive temperament. We have created these behaviours unintentionally by simply acknowledging them. Although many dogs love physical contact, most dogs believe your eye contact is the seal of approval, like a child who repeatedly disrupts his mother, just to get her attention. If you want it to stop, you’ve got to figure out the motivation behind the behaviour.

What is the reason for excessive barking? For some dogs, typically German Shepherds, a hard glare from their owner can stop any undesirable trait. For most other breeds your eye contact is just another way to say “I love you”! So, if you’re dealing with demanding barking, it’s likely the glare isn’t going to work. Just remember, if it’s your attention they are seeking and you keep looking, mission accomplished…regardless of how angry, disappointed or frustrated you become.

Barking has a few purposes. It relieves stress, conveys a message, and can make a request. Obviously, a neighbour’s barking dog can also create stress particularly when it doesn’t stop. But for the lonely dog sitting in the middle of the yard barking at what appears to be nothing, he is relieving the stress that comes with boredom and frustration. Regardless of the owner’s efforts to hush the dog, the problem is an under-worked animal. By adding extra mental stimulation to their day, you can improve this situation dramatically. Remember, our canine friends were designed to work for a living and Goldens inherently are intelligent, persistent, and trainable.

Any problem-solving exercises, where the dog learns to ignore physical/environmental cues to listen to a verbal command, will drain his brain. These include waiting at an open doorway, leaving food that is tossed to the ground or learning automatic behaviours such as sitting pretty during greetings. Do not use lure training for bored dogs as it promotes reactiveness rather than responsiveness. The difference between the two is a hyper-active dog compared to a guide dog. When a working dog has time off, they spend it resting. If you need to cut corners and choose aversive methods, such as citronella collars or e-collars, your success might be short lived. A new set of undesirable behaviours are often reported by the owner of a bored dog.

A very common complaint by pet owners is about the dog who barks incessantly at the doorbell, during car rides or at an approaching dog. Your Golden is trying to convey the message that he feels under threat. You need to recognize that their wild response is anxiety and not defiance. Their panic begins as a conditioned response to the doorbell, movement of the vehicle or simply the sight of another dog. In order to control this behaviour, you must have a relationship with your Golden that is built on trust and respect. He must be confident to look to you when things get scary. A correction at this time will increase their anxiety, aggravate the problem, and further cement the idea that this scenario is dangerous. Instead you should begin a desensitization program where you introduce the stimuli (doorbell, dog, etc.) at low levels until your Golden can comfortably handle it. It is also recommended to introduce an automatic response such as sitting on the landing of the stairs when the doorbell rings. These two options will help minimize stress, clearly establish what is expected, and therefore diminish their need to vocalize. At first, don’t focus on their barking but rather the expected response.

For the car situation, expect them to stay to one side rather than bounce back and forth. You should also gradually desensitize them to the vehicle by short jaunts that don’t rile them. These examples will help but it is always recommended to work with a professional.

A dog who has learned to request treats or go outside by barking, may become a little confused/frustrated when they are reprimanded (or even worse, ignored) when barking for your attention. We know frustration prompts more barking. More barking creates more frustration. If your Golden has learned that barking is an acceptable means of communication, get with the program. They can’t figure out why you’re not responding and their persistence starts to show. If you want your Golden to use a different method to request your attention (or not to do it at all) then it is time to teach them. You will definitely come across a few obstacles. First of all, dogs are simple. If it worked once, it’ll work every time. Accept that your Golden will continue to try the methods that have worked in the past. If you want to use the ignore technique, then you have to commit. Otherwise, it’s time to try a different technique. Your other option is to teach an alternative behaviour. But you must ensure that you’ve met their needs of feeding, playing, and walking before you expect resting. So, if barking while you watch TV is the problem, try asking for a command they understand, such as sit. Follow up with some praise (not food), then ask for another command, praise, and after a few repetitions, they might just choose to leave you alone. After all, they were after your attention not a job. There are no guarantees here if you’re dealing with a really hyper dog. You might have to incorporate all of the suggestions for a couple of weeks before you see some progress.

Although attention seeking behaviours have some very simple solutions, you will likely come across a few problems. Whenever you introduce change to a Golden, they will require some time to believe it. They are definitely creatures of habit and are typically very dependent on routine. This is no time to become frustrated with their actions. You are changing the rules midway through the game so give them a break. Until you have clearly laid out your expectations, established the new rules, and done so convincingly, don’t take their inappropriate conduct as defiance. It is safe to say that most of your Golden’s actions are unintentional. Their only true intent is that they expect the same results from you that they have received numerous times before. Enjoy the process and you will see results!

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a behavioural problem with various degrees of intensity, yet may sometimes be resolved without the assistance from a professional. The two most significant components for success will be the environment in which the Golden lives and the commitment of the family. Consequently, their separation anxiety is allowed to prevail and the family isn’t able to alter their schedule, there’s little one can do.

Destructiveness of both home and animal are the most common concerns when dealing with separation anxiety. Any dog with this type of history will need a family willing and capable of providing a nurturing, stable environment. It will take time, patience, and consistency.

Our first goal is to break down the cause and trigger for their reaction. The cause will usually fall under a ‘confinement’ or an ‘alone’ issue and, in some cases, the Golden is devastated by both. Test to see if your Golden reacts from being locked up while you are home. Then watch (through a window) their behaviour when you leave the house. For those who suffer from both, it is usually best to begin with the ‘confinement’ issue with a gradual desensitization program.

Some Goldens are capable of escaping the most elaborate concoctions, regardless of injury. It has surprised more than one pet owner that the dog being left alone wasn’t the real cause for concern. Many have been left speechless when it is suggested to leave their Golden free roaming in the house, only to discover a happy relaxed pet when they arrive home.

For those of you not so lucky, fixing the ‘confinement’ issue can be a long and tedious affair. Some dogs need to be in padlocked crates, while others need only a gated hallway. Regardless of the type of enclosure, it is critical that the Golden be left in a neutral part of the home so as not to add to his anxiety. The long trip to the basement (if you never spend time there) is a problem ‘trigger’ you must avoid. The next step is that the Golden must be confined daily (more than once is better) while you are at home. Once you commit to this program, the Golden cannot be left alone in his enclosure and you will have to make alternate arrangements for when you leave the house. Depending on their history, this could take several days or even weeks.

Your goal to fixing his confinement issue is that they are quiet, relaxed or sleeping (night-time doesn’t count) whenever you put them in their enclosure. In short, you must make this feel like a normal comfortable routine.

Initially, stay in the same area just outside of the enclosure and act very busy (such as cleaning the house). Gradually you should be able to leave the room or even go outdoors (such as getting the mail) without triggering a reaction. Since your goal is to improve their anxiety of being confined, do not rush leaving the house. When we begin working on their ‘alone’ issue, your reaction when you return should be relaxed. Your Golden considers your voice, eyes, and touch the ultimate in praise. If you’re trying to teach them that leaving is normal then returning should also be normal. It is so easy to unintentionally reward the wrong behaviour. You might also use a tie-down technique. Certain times of the day, such as dinner or TV time, you can attach a five-foot lead to a heavy object and place your Golden with a toy and a treat. They can be left just out of your reach so as to get used to being at a distance from you.

For dogs who have come out of a traumatic experience, you might need to alter parts of the program. The type of confinement might need to be more or less spacious. The history you’ve been provided or the information you have learned through trial and error will help you determine what changes need to be made. Some can never go back into a crate, while others might need an enclosed crate compared to a wire one.

One type of anxiety that always proves to be frustrating for owners is when a Golden is not reliably destructive. When a Golden is only destructive once or twice a month, most owners try to live with it by dog-proofing the home and keeping their valuables out of reach. When episodes become a little more frequent (i.e. once a week), it is recommended that owners keep a daily journal noting any and all activities. Often, we can see the correlation between events (long hikes, swimming, etc.) and the destruction. Not all cases will be simple, but thorough note-keeping will help to pick up unique triggers that cause anxiety.

In all cases of separation anxiety, the Golden’s mental and physical health are considered a priority. If a dog is so destructive that they are in harm’s way when you leave, consider hiring a professional. If you feel your Golden is just a little too dependent on routine, start to make gradual adjustments to their day. Where you exercise, train or socialize might need to be increased so your Golden develops a well-rounded social life. Monitor how your Golden handles these changes and alter them according to their reaction. At no time is a panic or shut down reaction acceptable. Immediately stop what you’ve been doing and redirect them to something they are comfortable with.


Bolting is FREEDOM! Bolting is generally caused from boredom and a lack of exercise and mental stimulation. As a result, many Goldens, when they spot an opening, will immediately take it. This behaviour is especially dangerous when coupled with roads and traffic.

Bolting can be completely eliminated with a steady routine of play, work, and rest. Your Golden must be part of your day-to-day routine. You can take them with you when you drop the kids off at school, when you collect your mail, and during that morning jog. Using proper walking techniques, you can exercise your Golden’s brain and body in unison and give them the freedom they crave.

Chronic Bolters

These Goldens are going to require a specific training exercise to eliminate the bolting behaviour. Simply follow these easy steps:
Secure your Golden to a leash and collar that they cannot slip out of.

  1. Bring the Golden to the front door.
  2. Drop the leash on the floor and step on it firmly with both feet.
  3. Open the front door and watch as they try to bolt.
  4. They will not get far as it is prevented by your weight on the leash.
  5. Close the door.

Repeat this exercise until they do not bolt. Instead they should look directly up at you as if to ask, “May I go out now, please?”
Only when you are actually leaving the house will you release them. This is done using a specific key word like, ‘okay’ spoken in a loud, happy voice. Make sure that you proceed through the door first and then release your Golden to follow. Use this same procedure when entering the house. This shows your Golden that they must wait for permission and follow your lead and will eliminate that potentially dangerous bolting behaviour.

Jumping on People

Is your dog a jumper? Are they greeting every unfortunate guest to the house with two front paws to the chest? If so, you’re like many others whose pugnacious pups have not yet learned to curb their jumping ways.

Most dogs jump because they are taught environmentally that jumping is a good thing. The owner carries the dog around in their arms or has them up on the couch and chairs/beds, which in turn elevates their status. The Golden then assumes more of an alpha role in the home while the owner is perceived as subservient and therefore is less respected.

So, when a dog is jumping up on people, what they are really saying is, “Pick me up! Pick me up!” in a rude and demanding manner ~ one they have come to expect will be met with an immediate response by their owner.

Goldens are easily used to routine and schedules and if you’re routinely picking them up or having them up on furniture, they get used to that and in turn begin to DEMAND it in the form of inappropriate behaviour like jumping or barking. They have learned from you that this is a sign of affection. And as soon as they see you, they start jumping up to get your attention. Essentially, they are saying, “Look at me, look at me, pet me, pet me!” because this is how they have learned to best get your attention.

Preventative options include avoiding creating the behaviour in the first place. You can do this by beginning your relationship with your new Golden by NOT allowing them up on beds and couches or picking them up constantly. The most important thing you have to do is often the hardest for many owners…and that is to IGNORE the behaviour when it is happening. When your Golden is demonstrating this kind of rude behaviour, you have to immediately stop petting and talking to them or interacting with them in any way until they stop jumping.
You ONLY give them love and attention when they are ON THE GROUND. The first thing you have to do is recognize what is rude behaviour in order to correct it and then start positively reinforcing good behaviour such as when they are NOT jumping up or climbing on furniture and have your Golden comfortably lie down at your feet on a mat instead of constantly harassing and jumping on you.

Dominance Aggression

There are many who will argue that it is genetically impossible for a Golden to be aggressive. Unfortunately, this is not true. We have seen a dramatic increase in all types of aggression. If you were to Google dominance and aggression, you will find a variety of sites. Unfortunately, many of them totally contradict one another. This is the contributing factor to why pet owners cannot correctly identify the type of aggression they’re dealing with…never mind trying to resolve it. There is no magic formula to fix a deep-rooted emotional response like aggression. A proper evaluation, which includes looking at their inherent traits and temperament, is the first order of business.

A Golden who is naturally dominant will appear confident and stable. They will respond to new situations with curiosity and intellect. They will not be fearful or panicky, regardless of age. They will often be relaxed amongst a group of dogs and will not pick fights, alarm bark or even mount those around them as that is an unnecessary waste of energy. If your Golden does not fit this description of a naturally dominant dog, be thankful because you are not dealing with true dominance aggression. It is more likely them struggling to climb their way up the perpetual ladder rather than defending it.

Aggression is not who the Golden is but the way they react. There are many reasons for aggression (i.e. fear, possessiveness, territorial, defensive, gender specific). These various types are best described as the motivation behind the aggressive act and the act comes in many forms. It can vary from a subtle warning to a full blown violent bloody attack. It is important to note that although aggression manifests itself in many ways, it varies from a posture to a snarl, bark, lunge, snap or bite. The primary motive needs to be identified and eliminated in order to actually eliminate the aggression. It is a common error to correct the aggression rather than the cause.

A Golden with dominance aggression is a rare but serious concern. They may not attack often but when they do, it is very dangerous. All types of aggression must be properly understood before they are to be treated. It is a shame that so often defensive aggression is misdiagnosed as dominance. There are some tell-tale signs that your Golden is probably not dominant. They include but are not limited to avoidance, destructive chewing, incessant grooming, hair loss, lethargy, hypersensitivity, and attention seeking approval. Although it is possible for one or more of these traits to be present in a dominant dog, it is unlikely. If you should experience aggression, please seek the help of a qualified professional.

Food Bowl Aggression

Every species in the canine world has some degree of innate possessiveness towards food or toys. It begins the very day they are born and are fighting with their littermates over who gets the best milk-producing nipple from mother. As pets in our homes, this behaviour is most frequently exhibited at mealtime and can include growling, showing teeth, and even barking and lunging at others who come near their food bowl while eating.

For Goldens with a strong degree of food possessiveness, we typically see this behaviour as a result of one of two extremes ~ either the Golden has been tied up for long periods of time with no freedom at all or they are given all the freedom in the world with no restrictions. Regardless of why, the key is to find the right balance through proper mental stimulation and adequate physical exercise. Get their minds and bodies working!

In the alpha-canine world, who eats first is very important. It shows the pack members who the leader is and who is running the pack. For many years, humans have attempted to breed dogs like the Golden Retriever with less possessive and aggressive tendencies over food and toys. What has been found is that while the instinct can be inhibited to a large degree with breeding and training, it can still be triggered in extreme situations.

The challenge for us as humans is to make it clear to them that we are the leaders of the pack and we control the food, not the other way around.

There are two important distinctions to be made when talking about food possessive behaviour in dogs. The question to ask is whether the Golden is being possessive towards another dog or towards a human. This is important because some dogs will always be more dominant than others and will take on that alpha role in the pack just as part of the natural order of things. This is normal and as it should be in nature…everyone falls into their place.

If food possessiveness has been triggered, you can deal with it in a number of ways, depending on the severity of the situation. If the Golden is already at the point where they are attacking humans over their food bowl, it is highly recommended you seek a professional so your Golden can be properly desensitized towards this behaviour in a safe and controlled manner.

In less severe cases, there are a number of exercises you can practice at home to desensitize your Golden and teach them to be more comfortable around the food bowl. If you are doing this at home, then you are going to need two people ~ one to operate the dog with the leash and the other to handle the food. Of course, a good rule of thumb when doing this exercise is to ALWAYS BE SAFE! If you know your Golden is going to be lashing out or snapping and biting, make sure you take proper precautions.

For this first technique, we are going to set up the dog-feeding situation ahead of time. Begin by commanding your Golden to SIT beside you and keep them in a sit position while the second person puts the food bowl down in front of them. For safety reasons, when working with a more possessive dog, keep your distance when placing the food on the floor.

If your Golden makes an aggressive move, sound or posture, tell him NO in a deep voice accompanied by a quick pull and release on the leash. REMEMBER, once you have given that quick pull with the leash you must release it immediately afterwards. It should not take more than that for them to get the message. When you are ready, and ONLY when you are ready, give them a big happy ‘OKAY’ using a high-pitched voice, thereby signaling to them that it is now okay to eat the food.

For best results, you should build this into your daily routine. You can do this easily by introducing a few simple behaviours at home. For example, at mealtime try eating first before feeding your Golden. This may sound strange at first because we would never consider eating in front of someone else while making them wait to eat themselves. However, in the canine world it’s different and who eats first is based on the hierarchy that has been established in the pack. So, if you eat something first at their mealtime, and it doesn’t have to be a full course meal…just something small, this sends them the message that you are the pack leader are in control of distributing the food.

If you have more than one dog and one is acting possessive towards another over food, we recommend that you feed each dog in their crate or a different room. This not only makes eating a more positive experience for them but it also gives them space to feel safe while eating.

If your Golden has not yet developed a strong possessive drive, there are a number of things you can do to ensure they avoid developing this drive to begin with. One we have already mentioned is always eating before your dog. The second is to actually put your hands in your dog’s food or handle their food bowl while they are eating (take it away while they are eating and then give it back). Also, when feeding them, try putting only a little bit of food in the bowl at first and then keep adding more as they eat. This not only helps prevent them from learning food bowl possession but they are also learning that there is more food to come. What we are trying to do here is eliminate their natural instinct to fight over food. In the wild, there is usually a limited amount of food to go around the pack so their natural instinct is to fight over food or go hungry.

Introducing these practices at their mealtimes will show them that humans are the alpha leaders. Once they accept you as their leader, they will no longer respond aggressively around their food and will be more calm and comfortable at mealtime.

As always, if you are experiencing challenges with your Golden, the Golden Rescue team provides ongoing support to all adopters, so please do not hesitate to reach out.

All Dog Training is NOT the Same

By Lynda Kitson, Owner, Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centres

In this edition I’d like to shed some light on the various training methods and how training has evolved over the years. Just like everything in life, everything evolves. We find ways to do things better. If you think back 50 or more years ago, people thought nothing about spanking their kids with a belt to get compliance. However, we have learned there are far more kinder and respectful ways of training our children. This is true of dog training as well.

During the two world wars, corporal punishment was how they trained military dogs. This way of training continued after the war. I remember when I was a young child, my father had brought home a dog that someone had given up. She peed on the living room carpet and my father grabbed her by the collar to drag her outside and then beat her with a bicycle tire. That poor dog didn’t know how to signal us to let us know that she needed to go out, nor did she know where ‘out’ was. What a horrible experience for a dog who was just given up by her family. But that’s the way things were done back then.

In 1994, when we got our first Golden, we took her to a dog training class. When we arrived, the first thing they gave us was a choke chain and a leash. Back then, that’s how dogs were trained to walk nicely on a leash. We were never fans of choke chains but we were new to dog training and didn’t know any better. The trainer told us that when our dog started to pull ahead, give a quick pop on the choke chain so that it quickly tightened and then released around their neck. If they really pulled, the choke chain would remain tight around their neck. Our second Golden was also trained using this same method, and the first time we used the choke chain on her, she became fearful. Fortunately, our veterinarian recommended a gentle leader, also known as a head harness. It does take some dogs a little time to get used to it but both our Goldens adjusted to them very quickly and walked far better on the gentle leader. I still train my dogs using a gentle leader today. Tools such as choke chains, e-collars, and prong or pinch collars is known as aversive training. This method uses force and fear to get the dog to do what they’re supposed to do. If they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, something unpleasant will happen. One of the first things we did back then was lay on top of our dog and wait for them to stop struggling to show them we are alpha or dominant. They had used force to get our dog into a sit or down by pushing their body into position. The alpha or dominant theory was scientifically disproven back in 2009. There are many excellent articles on this topic. Here is one if you’d like to check it out from the Association of Professional Dog Trainers ~ Today we know better. And when you know better, you do better. Unfortunately, there are still trainers out there that use the aversive method.

Fortunately, training evolved and a kinder more respectful way of training was developed. Force-free or Positive Reward-Based training was developed in 1947 but it didn’t catch on here in North America until the 80’s and thank goodness it did! It was endorsed by Karen Pryor and Dr. Ian Dunbar. Who’s Walking Who started using this training in the 90’s and we continue to use this along with games-based concept training (recognized as the next evolution in dog training) which I’ll talk about in a minute.

Positive Reward-Based training, often referred to as clicker training, is a far more humane and respectful way of training your dog. It’s important to remain positive when training because if we become frustrated, it will travel down the leash and your dog will have no idea why you’re upset with them. We also use a ‘marker’. The marker might be a clicker, although we did away with those years ago because many found them difficult to use at the right time. Instead, we use the word ‘yes’ to let the dog know they got it right. With this type of training, we use food to reward the dog and let them know they got it right. The food reward is your dog’s paycheque. In our classes, we tell students to use their dog’s kibble as much as possible for training. Simply take some of their daily allowance of food out of their bowl and set it aside for training. That way they are working for their food. It’s easier to wean them off kibble as a reward than it is to wean them off treats. However, it’s important to have some extra high-value treats for those more challenging things you are trying to teach like recall or not chasing squirrels.

Then we have what’s called a Balanced Approach to training. In a nutshell, Balanced Dog Training involves the use of both reward-based techniques, and aversive consequences. In other words, the trainer shows the dog that their choices and behaviours can result in either pleasant or unpleasant results. They start out by using a Positive Reward-Based method to do something and if they don’t, they switch to an aversive method. In other words, they start out using a kind and respectful method and then switch to fear if the dog doesn’t comply. Imagine if someone did that to you? This creates a distrusting dog.

Once again, dog training is evolving and Games Based Concept training is seen as the next evolution in dog training. It originated in Europe about 12 years ago and is widely used there and has gained popularity in North America over the past few years. Susan Garrett is a big advocate of games-based training here. Absolute Dogs is recognized world-wide for this type of training. Games work on reshaping the dog’s brain to make better decisions without us telling them what to do. It works on 16 concepts including impulse control, proximity (to their owner), disengagement (from the environment), engagement with the owner (when there are distractions), confidence, flexibility, being able to bring excitement levels down, etc. We use the games created by Absolute Dogs (there are over 200) and each game works on 3 – 7 specific concepts. Training is short and fun. One of their mottos is ‘Train for a fun time, not a long time’. Imagine having a dog that looks at a squirrel and makes the decision not to chase it or, when off leash, makes the decision to hang out with you rather than taking off. These are the types of things games-based concept training teaches your dog. At Who’s Walking Who, we use a combination of Positive Reward Based training and Games Based Concept training because this provides our students with better, faster, real life results.

The last thing I want to leave you with is that if you are thinking of sending your dog to a ‘Board and Train’, do your research. Find out exactly what method of training they use. Another thing to consider is that your dog may do things for the trainer, but will they do it for you when they’re back home? That’s why we believe it’s important to teach the student how to train their dog. After all, they are your best friend.

When looking for a dog training school, make sure you find out exactly what type of training method(s) they use, because not all dog training is the same.

Preparing for the New ‘Normal’

By Peter Brown, Professional Dog Trainer, Alpha Paws

Most people would agree that the last year and a half has been life altering and turned all of our world upside down. Adults have been working from home in ways we never have before and kids have been learning online and suddenly the classroom is a computer screen somewhere in the family home. Many have welcomed new canine family members into an environment where everyone is spending a lot more time together in much closer quarters, mostly because of Covid lockdowns and quarantines. Fortunately, lifesaving vaccines are now available, providing much needed hope to the world, which is allowing us to slowly return to a more ‘normal’ social existence. Restrictions have started easing and as September draws near, students are preparing to return to school and adults are slowly starting to return to work outside the home. For our dogs, this new reality of being home alone more often can cause anxiety unless we properly prepare them ahead of time. Also, as a result of the pandemic, many of our dogs have been under-socialized and as we emerge from our Covid bubbles, they are now encountering more people and dogs. The best thing we can do for everyone is to start preparing for these eventual changes now. Doing this, while you’re still at home, will help make the transition smoother, remove a lot of stress, and prevent your dog from developing separation anxiety. It will also allow you to fully focus on your dog without the extra distraction of you leaving the house to work again.

There are some simple dog training techniques that you can blend into your existing daily activities that will make a huge difference in how well your dog handles you going back to work and not being around all the time. The first exercise can be done when you’re at home relaxing with your dog. You could be sitting, maybe watching TV or reading a book, with your dog lying by your side. At some point you will have to get up to leave the room, perhaps to use the washroom or get a glass of milk. When you stand up, immediately your dog will stand up and look at you as if to say, “Where are we going?” This is the same instinct that a puppy has to follow their mother in the wild. At some point, the mother must leave her puppies alone in the den to find food because she can’t go hunting with a whole troop of puppies following her. So, to teach her puppies to stay, she goes into the den and lies down. All the puppies come in and follow her. At some point she stands up and the very first puppy that tries to follow gets snapped at in front of their nose. This quick, sharp movement startles them and then she stiffens her whole body and turns away with her chin up looking at the puppy only through the side of her eyes. She remains stiff using her body language to communicate until the puppy gets the message and lays back down. Only when the puppy has laid back down does she turn and leave. We are going to use the same method. When you stand up and your dog stands up and looks at you as if to say, “Where are we going?”, you are going to turn to the dog and snap your fingers in front of their nose and straighten your back making your whole body stiff with your chin pointed up and away while looking down at them out of the corner of your eye. This is like a game of chicken. Whoever moves first loses, so you must remain in this stiff stance until your dog lies back down. Once they do, you will typically hear them let out a defeated breath or a big sigh. At this point, you can turn your back and leave the room. You may need to repeat the process a few time until your dog gets the message. Eventually you will be able to leave the room completely with your dog lying down comfortably knowing that you will come back. When you do return, it’s important that when you enter your home you avoid looking or talking to your dog for the first two to five minutes. Your dog will be excited to see you but if you feed that energy with high pitched excited greetings and intense eye contact, it will only reinforce that your leaving was not an ordinary thing. When your dog has calmed down then crouch and invite them into your space. Once the dog enters your space you can give them lots of love and affection. Keep practicing this exercise until you can leave the house and stay away for a while without your dog getting anxious and misbehaving.

Now that Covid restrictions are letting up, we are also finding that many dogs have been under-socialized, just like us. To socialize them properly, I recommend setting up short meetings with other dogs for when you are out on a walk. This is a great way to introduce your dog to new social situations while helping them to feel safe and secure at the same time. The technique is simple and easy to implement in your daily lives. As you approach a new dog, take the lead and go first, letting your dog follow behind you. This is important because if they are let out in front, then they may feel like they have to be your protector and this can lead to anxiety and the potential for a negative encounter with the other dog. Taking the lead will let your dog know that you are protecting them and that they’re safe as you approach this new dog. They will be able to relax and feel confident that you are in charge, and they don’t have to be. Remember, for many dogs and rescues in particular, they may have already had a bad experience with another dog, so feeling safe and secure is extremely important. And after living almost exclusively with you and your family during the pandemic to suddenly meeting and interacting with others can be overwhelming so it’s important that you go slow and show them that there is nothing to be afraid of. You can facilitate a friendly greeting between two dogs by slowly approaching the new dog with your dog following behind you on a loose leash. When dogs are greeting, it’s important to keep your leashes loose, so the dog doesn’t feel like it’s being held back. If they feel like they’re on a tight leash, this can trigger the fight or flight instinct where they start thinking, “If I can’t run away, I must attack”, which means if your dog is on a tight leash you could be dooming your socialization efforts. So, remember to keep your leash loose with you in front leading the way. As you approach a new dog, crouch down and with a friendly hello hold out your hand palm up and outstretched for the dog to sniff. Once the approaching dog has touched its nose to your hand, loosen off more of the leash on your dog behind you. That should allow your dog to go around the other dog and curiously sniff their bum. This is the proper handshake greeting for a dog ~ you sniff my bum and I sniff yours. If they cannot sniff each other’s bums, then they cannot be friends. Once everyone has had a good sniff, they should be more comfortable socializing together.

Another way to help your dog relax as you encounter new dogs is to use the ‘gentle touch’ maneuver. This is a great technique to help your dog if they stiffen and get tense when another dog approaches.

What you do is place the back of your hand gently on their side, right in the crease of their back leg near their hip close to the groin area. This is simulating another dog sniffing them in greeting and it’s almost impossible for your dog to remain stiff and focused on another dog approaching when you have your hand near their groin. They will naturally be distracted from the other dog and will turn and look at you, which will help them re-focus on you and your calming presence. Then you can lead them past the other dog using lots of motivation and a command like, “okay let’s go” with a pat on your leg. Walk your dog away from the other until their posture returns to a more relaxed state. Avoid lingering and instead keep your dog walking and moving away. Leading your dog through the encounter calmly is important and will leave them with a more positive experience of socializing with other dogs and they will have more confidence when approaching and interacting with them in the future.

If you take some time now and prepare and socialize your dog properly using these techniques, then you can avoid the negative behaviours associated with separation anxiety and under-socialization. And your dog will feel safe and secure as well as confident knowing that you will always be there even if you must leave from time to time. They can relax and enjoy life as valued members of your family as we all gradually emerge from our Covid bubbles together.

Top Ten Ways to Avoid a Dog Bite

By Peter Brown, Professional Dog Trainer, Alpha Paws

As dog parents, we often think more like a human when we interact with our canine companions when what they really need is for us to think more like a dog. Our brains tell us that they are going to act and feel a certain way because that is how we would act and feel. We forget that dogs are completely different thinking beings than us and, as such, perceive the world in a very different way. In addition, many rescue dogs have unique histories that require us, as their humans, to think of how and why they perceive things and adjust our reactions accordingly. In order to have the best relationship possible with our pups, it’s crucial we understand how our dogs think. Below is a list of the top ten things humans do or ways we misunderstand our dogs that can result in our normally loving dogs unexpectedly lashing out and how we can avoid this by making a few simple changes to the way we act around them.

#10 ~ Dogs need their own space. This is an instinct because in nature what they have in their mouth or the spot they are occupying at that moment is all that they have control over in their world and they are often motivated to protect it. So, the expression ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ is extra important with rescue dogs. Approaching your dog in the wrong way by invading their space and looming over them from above like a predator, using a high and/or loud voice, cause many dogs to think they are being attacked, which triggers a fight-or-flight instinct. Because dogs are so cute, people want to approach them and give them excited love and affection but that can often trigger a defensive response from the scared, dominant or nervous dog. Imagine what the dog sees when you move quickly and with lots of noise into their space towering above them. This can be very intimidating to many dogs and is often when people get bitten. If you want to interact with your dog and give them love and affection, it’s best to crouch down to the dog’s level and call them over to you so that they come to you. When they reach you is your opportunity to give them all the love and pets that you want.

#9 ~ There is a right way and a wrong way of petting or stroking your dog. Using too rough a touch and not being gentle enough can rile your dog into a state of excessive excitement that can quickly turn to play biting or even aggression. Also, if you stroke the dog too quickly around the snout and head you can agitate the dog and trigger its biting reflex. The best way to pet your dog is to use an outstretched hand, palm up and let them sniff you first. Then, once you get a positive response, you can proceed to calmly pet the dog starting with underneath the chest and along their side using the back of your hand softly stroking the dog and eventually moving to their ears and the sides of their face. This gentle loving touch will be non-threatening and relaxing to the dog and when combined with telling them what a good boy or girl they are in a soft and soothing voice will be exactly what they need and they’ll love every minute of it.

#8 ~ Just like excessive rough petting, we also want to avoid rough play including tug-of-war or roughhousing with our dogs. This behaviour can lead to excessive excitement and riling your dog into a state-of-mind that can lead to dominance and aggression. If you have a Golden, the best kind of play is the kind that taps into the things they like the most such as playing fetch. Here they can expend a ton of energy running while they chase a stick or ball over and over again. It’s a favourite pastime for many dogs where they can get lots of exercise and at the same time it does not lead to bad behaviour. It’s important to remember though that when the dog brings the item back to you for its next throw, you should have them drop the item on your command. Never reach in to take the item from the dog’s mouth. This can frustrate and challenge your dog and may lead to a biting incident. A good trick if your dog is reluctant to let go of the item is to have a second desirable item on hand to entice the dog to drop the first while you throw the second item for the next round of fetch. Once the dog is off, clearly fetching the second item, then you can pick up the first item and just keep rotating the two items with every throw. Most dogs love this game and can play all day!

#7 ~ If your dog is in pain, they may lash out and snap or bite as a warning to let us know we’re touching them in a sore spot. Often, our dogs will not outwardly show us when they’re in pain (i.e. sore paw, ear infection, skin irritations). Gentle, calm, and regular grooming and brushing will allow you to notice any ailments your dog may have, and you will be able to identify these issues quickly and address them without inflicting further pain and triggering a negative reaction in your dog. Also, infected ears have a distinct smell that you will notice and can treat immediately. A trip to your vet might be required to see if there’s another underlying reason they are in pain or discomfort.

#6 ~ The act of constantly hand-feeding a dog while staring them right in the eye sets up a direct challenge over food that you lose as soon as you give it to them. First of all, the intense staring at the dog while offering them food is seen by the dog as a dare ~ almost an invitation to fight over the food and secondly, in a dog pack food is seen as dominance. The leader eats first, so if the dog sees you hand feeding them and never yourself first then this can make them feel as if they own you and the food and they will not see you as being in charge. They will feel as if they’re the most important one in the pack and, like a spoiled child, will think that they should get whatever they want whenever they want it. This will often lead to frustration when they don’t get their way and they may snap at you when you try to establish your leadership.

#5 ~ Constant, intense staring down is perceived by most dogs as a direct challenge and can result in either a fight-or-flight response. They will either run away or attack and retaliate. A good way to avoid this is to look at their ears, chest, tail, paws ~ anywhere but directly in their eyes. You can also keep your gaze moving away from their eyes and never holding their gaze for too long. It also helps to squint or look away after a moment of looking at them. These are all perceived as non-threatening behaviours and will put your dog at ease. Nervous dogs find this most beneficial as well.

#4 ~ Be aware of fast-moving objects around your dog such as cars, motorcyclists, bikers, joggers, kids on bikes, and children running around and playing in quick, jerky movements with high-pitched, loud voices. For a nervous dog, including rescues, these types of stimulation can be overwhelming, making the dog even more nervous, which can lead to fear biting or snapping at people who get too close. It can also trigger an instinctive fight-or-flight response and in some cases a desire to protect themselves from this perceived threat, which can lead to an attack out of fear. To avoid this scenario, be aware of these types of distractions when you are out with your dog and when you see one approaching, casually get in between the dog and the object and calmly lead your dog away on a loose leash. Do not tighten up on the leash as this will send the wrong message to the dog. It telegraphs that danger is coming and they should be on guard. This is the opposite of what we want, which is a calm, relaxed dog. Also, do not look and stare directly at the dog or talk to them and make a big deal trying to soothe them. This will only heighten their fear and make them think you need to be protected instead of you protecting them. Just remain calm, don’t react, and try to find a distraction like a stick or smell for your dog as you lead them away and continue with your walk.

#3 ~ Avoid tying your dog up, especially when outside around a lot of nature distractions (i.e. cats, squirrels, birds) that may taunt them because they cannot go beyond the end of the line. This is a classic mistake that people make and often leads to aggression in our dogs. If you have to tie them up for a short, supervised time, then tie them to you with the leash around your waist so they can be with you and feel safe and you can monitor them at the same time.

#2 ~ Feed your dog from their bowl only ~ never directly off the floor. If you get the dog into the habit of cleaning up food messes from the floor, then you’re setting up your child or any visitors to potentially be bitten when they drop food on the floor in front of your dog and then try to pick it up. This could lead to confrontations, which is something we want to avoid at all costs. If food does fall on the ground, remove your dog from the situation first and then pick up the dropped food.

#1 ~ Always walk your dog on a loose leash. A tight leash while walking can frustrate them and they may turn on you and the leash. If your dog is constantly pulling at the end of the leash, use encouragement, including a happy, kissy sound while patting your side enthusiastically to draw them back to you. If your dog is a constant and excessive puller, try training them with a martingale collar or gentle leader until they learn to walk nicely by your side. It’s also important to give your dog a chance to run and get lots of exercise, so using a longer line can really help with this if you don’t have a big enough yard space.

So, What is Concept Games-Based Training?

By Lynda Kitson, Owner, Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centres

You may have heard of Games Based or Concept Training. It has been around for about 10 years but has started becoming more popular and recognized all over the world. It is seen as the next revolution in dog training and I completely agree.

One of my trainers introduced me to it a little over a year ago. As we had to shut down during the first wave of COVID last March, it gave me the opportunity to investigate and pursue games-based training. The changes it brought to Star in the way she reacted to things was amazing. So much so, that I signed up to study and become Certified as a Pro Dog Trainer through Absolute Dogs.

At Who’s Walking Who, we have been using positive reward-based training for the past 20+ years. Last year, we started integrating games-based into our regular classes and again, the results that people were having with their dogs was simply far beyond what we had seen in the past.

So, what’s the difference? The way Absolute Dogs puts it, there are three types of trainers ~ Trainer 1’s, Trainer 2’s, and Trainer 3’s. Trainer 1’s use aversive methods that inflict pain or fear such as shock collars, prong collars or choke chains in order to get the dog to do what they want them to do. Trainer 2’s use positive reward-based training. Basically, reward what you want and ignore what you don’t want. In both of these training methods, they train in the situation, not for the situation. In other words, they train ‘in the moment’ rather than preparing the dog for when it occurs.

For instance, if you have a dog who barks or lunges at another dog while on leash out on a walk, Trainer 1 might suggest putting a prong or choke chain on them. Trainer 2 might suggest making your dog sit and make eye contact with you, not the dog up ahead. And I have to admit, as a Trainer 2 for many years, it’s something we used to do. But when you know better, you do better. In both cases, you are forcing them or telling them what to do.

Trainer 3’s train for the situation instead, not in the situation through games. We work instead on building concepts within your dog’s brain which then produce real life results. Concepts such as proximity (to you), flexibility, confidence, optimism, impulse control, thinking in arousal (being excited or worried), focus, engagement, disengagement, and I’m probably missing a few.

Let’s think about this for a minute…your dog sees another dog up ahead and he starts barking and/or lunging. Your dog could be excited to see the dog and wants to get to them or he could be worried or anxious about this dog and doesn’t want to get near them. Just because the hackles on their back go up, doesn’t mean they’re mad. Hackles can go up when they’re excited. In both cases, the dog is aroused, either negatively or positively at the sight of the other dog.

Now, if you have a prong or slip collar on them, you are inflicting pain when they see another dog. What kind of message does that relay to the dog? If you ask them to sit and stare at you while you feed them treats, first you create more worry because now they can’t see the other dog approaching and secondly, if you know anything about dog body language, staring is intimidating for a dog. Yes, our dogs will stare lovingly at us when they’re relaxed at home, but your dog is not relaxed in this situation.

Trainer 3′ instead show the owner a number of different types of games to play with their dog in many different places in their home and outside in safe places like the backyard, driveway or on leash out on a walk. In the example above the games prescribed might be designed to build disengagement (from what’s happening in the environment), proximity (wanting to be with you, not what’s ahead), confidence (a dog that is upset about seeing other dogs is not confident, in fact lacks confidence), optimism (it’s perfectly normal to see another dog), flexibility (nope, I don’t need to be worried or play with the other dog), etc. There are actually over 200 games, each building on more than one concept. The best part is that you adapt the training to the individual dog ~ there’s no cookie cutter solution.

What games-based training does is help the dog make better decisions. We build on the concepts that are weak in your dog. We are not telling them or forcing them to do something, instead, through games we build the concepts they’re lacking so they make good decisions. And the best part is playing the games is fun!

It’s great to teach your dog to sit or down using rewards-based training. We still do that and will continue to. But if you have a dog that gets worried or anxious about sounds, things that move, new places, has trouble settling down, has little impulse control, wouldn’t you rather help reshape their brain so those things aren’t a struggle?

I will give you a perfect example of how this training is different. I have a new little puppy named Tula. We got her at eight weeks and I have been using games-based training from day one. As you probably know, puppies have no self-control, so I have been playing a number of impulse control games with Tula to help her develop some self-control. I have Tula with me on most of my one-on-one virtual training sessions. I had a consult with a lady who had just adopted a rescue and one of her concerns was her dog rushing through the front door when it opened. I told her I would show her an obedience exercise that she could work on with her dog and I would use Tula to demo. I also told her Tula had never been taught this (and she hadn’t) so it would be a good real-life example.

The exercise is open the door, then as the dog tries to walk through it, pull him back so he can’t go through. Continue to do this until they wait for you open the door fully. Then mark & reward and tell them to go through. Tula and I approached the door to a room that she loves because it’s where we keep our supplies. I opened the door all the way, expecting her to walk through it and she promptly sat down and looked at me. She did not attempt to walk through into the other room. The reason is, I’ve worked so much on impulse control through games that she made the decision to sit and wait. Tula was only 17 weeks at the time.

Does games-based training work? You bet it does! I’ll be talking more about it and including some games in upcoming articles.

Every Dog Has a Brain

By Lynda Kitson, Owner, Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centres

Yes, every dog has a brain. Now I know there may be times when we question this, but their brain is what tells them to react the way they do. Their brain is made up of what we’ll call ‘building blocks’. Our brain is also made up of building blocks. Each building block represents a skill or lack of a skill. Some may be strong and some may be weak. These blocks influence the choices they make.

When a dog sees or hears something, they may or may not have a reaction, depending on whether it’s important to them. If it’s important to them, their brain then decides if it’s good or bad and then it tells them how to react. Their reaction may be appropriate or inappropriate. The challenge is that they may think it’s appropriate, whereas we don’t think it’s appropriate at all. For instance, your dog sees a squirrel and thinks this is good, no wait, great! His natural instincts kick in and go Woohoo…Let’s chase that squirrel! While you’re on the other end of the leash going No, Stop, Bad Dog, etc. What we have is a conflict of interest. Your Golden’s brain is saying, this is appropriate behaviour. Your brain, on the other hand, is saying this is not appropriate behaviour. It’s simply two differing opinions.

When we are looking at concepts or behaviours, this dog is lacking self-control (also known as impulse control), disengagement (from the squirrel), proximity (seeing way more value in hanging out with you rather than chasing the squirrel), flexibility (being able to make the decision to not chase the squirrel), thinking in arousal (making a more appropriate decision like not chasing the squirrel), and arousal down (calming themself down when they are really exited about chasing the squirrel). You can now see why this is hard for most dogs.

Reactivity happens when our dogs are excited, fearful or frustrated. This is when their bucket overflows, which is what I wrote about in the last issue of The Guardian. Reactivity can be barking, lunging, jumping, destroying things, whining, mouthing, unable to listen, shaking, humping, zoomies, etc. Every dog is different. Some dogs will react, some will not. Their reaction will also differ from dog to dog. The challenge is that dogs will become what they practice or rehearse. The more they continue to react, the more it becomes the norm. What we need to understand and accept is that these are not behavioural problems. This is simply how dogs behave.

I want to put some perspective on this. We react to things all the time too. For instance, if you were to discover that you were holding the winning $60 million lottery ticket, I doubt that you would stand there looking at it and simply say “isn’t that nice, I just won $60 million”. You would have some sort of reaction. Possibly screaming, jumping up and down, calling your family, complete disbelief, and any other number of possibilities. We are all different.

Let’s look at more everyday stuff. If you’re into sports, how do you react at sports games? How about scary movies, live performances, casinos or when you get frustrated because you are unable do something (which perhaps you could do previously). How you react may be different from someone else. People were going crazy over the hockey playoffs. I wasn’t. I’m not into hockey. Finally, let’s think about a child of about two to three years of age. What do they do when they hear some exciting news? They may scream with glee, jump up and down or act silly. How about when they’re scared? They may hide behind you, scream or run away. What about when they’re frustrated? Remember this is a two to three year old child. They may yell, refuse to try or throw a temper tantrum. Do these children have behavioural problems? Of course not. They simply have not developed the skills to deal with the situation and act appropriately.

Here’s the thing ~ a mature dog, which is around two years of age, has the maturity level of a two to three year old child and that’s as good as it gets. Your dog’s brain at adulthood will never be able to process information any better than that of a two year old. On top of that, we cannot reason with a dog, whereas in most cases, we can reason with a child.

Positive reward-based obedience training is perfect for teaching your dog words, but not for changing behaviour. We have limited success in telling them what to do or what not to do in that moment because our dogs can’t think when they’re in that state of mind. You might change the behaviour through force, but your dog will feel conflicted and confused because their brain disagrees with what you want. In addition, you damage your relationship with your dog. If we tell our dog to look at us, we are being confrontational because dogs staring at each other is intimidating and often results in reactivity. Moreover, we are now adding to their bucket so now both you and your dog’s buckets are overflowing.

This is where games-based training works better because we train for the situation, not in the situation. By playing specific games that work on developing the skills the dog is lacking, we start to re-shape the way their brain thinks, which in turn allows them to make better, more appropriate decisions, such as not chasing that squirrel, lunging at another dog, pulling on the leash, and anything else your dog tends to do. Playing for the situation simply means that you play the games in every possible room in your home, including closets and bathrooms if they’re big enough. Play in your backyard, on leash on your front yard, and on walks on leash in non-distracting environments! But be sure to play the games that address the struggles your dog has. As the brain is re-shaped, they start making better decisions in real-life situations. We use the games that Absolute Dogs has developed because they’re the leaders in games-based training.

We sometimes forget that dogs are not humans. However, we often treat them like or expect them to behave like humans. We have to remember that they are incredible creatures, with different genetics, strengths, and weaknesses. They deserve our respect, patience, and the most up-to-date training methods to help them become the best dog they can be.

Healthy Habits for a Well-Adjusted Dog

By Peter Brown, Professional Dog Trainer, Alpha Paws

We all want a happy and healthy relationship with our pets just like we do for any other member of our family. This does not come without work though and there are some small but important habits we can establish as dog owners that will ensure we have not only the best and happiest relationship with our dogs but that they are well-adjusted and content members of the family too. Let’s look at them now.

Be a Leader
There is a difference between being someone’s parent and being their grandparent. Everyone says: I will be so happy being a grandparent, I wish I could’ve done it first. Ultimately though, the responsibility falls on the parents to create rules with structure, love, and discipline. As opposed to the grandparent’s role of love and sugar!

Leash Training
Like learning any new skill, leash training is best learned early but can be learned at any time. The important thing is that you lead the walk with your dog at your side looking to you for direction…and not pulling. The difference in your ability to operate the leash and lead your dog on the walk is the difference between enjoying your walk and having your arm ripped off. It’s important to keep the leash loose and to choose a side for your dog to walk on and stick with it. Allowing your dog to wander aimlessly back and forth all over the place just hands them the control and then they’re leading…not you. However, you should also make time to let your dog be a dog. So, start by leading your dog to that place in your walk where you can stop, let them sniff around, perhaps put them on a long line, throw a ball, and let them run. It’s like taking your kids to the park. You always have them walk beside you nicely on the way to and from the park but once they get there, you let them have space to run and play. You may wonder, why is it so important that my dog doesn’t wander while we walk? Well, it’s because you want your dog to listen to and respect you and if they’re leading instead of following, then you could be leaving yourselves open to potential dangers that you could have identified and steered away from had you been leading.

Eye Contact
If you’re always looking your dog directly in the eye, they will consider that dominant and challenging behaviour or that you’re looking to them for leadership, which can create anxiety in many dogs who don’t want to lead. So, minimize your eye contact and keep it sporadic and squint a lot as this softens the effect. Squinting is a sign of appeasement for all land mammals, so don’t try this with a dolphin! Dogs will also determine what you’re thinking by what you’re looking at. They will not typically follow a finger that’s pointing. To get your dog’s attention, try using more body language like nodding your head in the direction you want them to go while also looking in that direction. If I want my dog to stand beside me, I will pat my hip, call his name, and use encouraging words. If I want my dog to sit, I will look at his bum while telling him ‘sit’ and if I want him to lie down, I will look at the ground in front of him while saying ‘down’ with lots of praise when he listens.

Regulate Conversation
It sounds simple but dogs don’t talk. If you want to talk to your dog, you should be touching your dog, giving them love or directing the dog using short sentences. Long, drawn-out conversations with lots of eye contact can build separation anxiety with your dog.

Moving Your Hands
When approaching your dog, use slow, steady movements and pet them in a smooth, calm, and slow manner. This will ensure you do not raise the energy level in your dog to the point where they get all riled up, which is often the precursor to aggression or play biting. Humans often use their hands to pet their dog’s head in a fast circle sweeping motion around the dog’s snout or they rub vigorously back-and-forth on either side of their snout, head, and/or back end. While it may seem fun to the human, this actually can annoy the dog and they will often respond by immediately biting in the air and your fingers and hands too if they get in the way.

Routine Schedule
It doesn’t matter what your schedule and routine is…what matters is that you do it the same every day. Dogs don’t know weekends and they don’t know holidays and are more well-adjusted when they have a regular daily routine spanning everything from exercise to training to eating to playing to sleeping/resting. As long as all elements are covered and you follow the same routine every day, you are sure to have a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted dog. Keep in mind though that when your dog’s routine is disrupted because of a sudden road trip or night out, they may be more stressed, more excited, and more prone to behavioural issues when you get home. Be calm, patient, understanding, and loving and it will pass!

Proper Toy Selection
It may not seem like it, but your dog is a predator. So, squeaky toys and plush toys, especially ones that look like small animals, can represent a prey animal to your dog and increase their desire to chase bunnies and squirrels. This can lead to uncomfortable pulling on the leash every time they see one when you’re out on a walk. I recommend dog toys that are unmistakeably dog toys and that are indestructible like kongs and other hard rubber toys like barbells. Not only are they durable, they last longer but they don’t stir up any unwanted predatory instincts in your dog!

As you can see, simple adjustments to the way you interact with your dog can make a difference in both of your lives and create a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted canine member of the family. Just like with our children, we guide our pups day-by-day, not simply training them in one single minute or one day. Instead, it’s a lifetime of responsibility, perseverance, love, and consistency that keeps them on the path of good behaviour.

Hello…It’s Nice to Meet You!

By Peter Brown, Professional Dog Trainer, Alpha Paws

Dogs, particularly Golden Retrievers, are highly social animals, which make them such great pets and loving members of the family. For under-socialized dogs, whether it be a dog you got during Covid or a rescue dog, socialization may be more challenging and requires using simple techniques to help facilitate a successful meeting and greeting between two new dogs. The first and a key factor for any new meeting is location. It’s best to plan ahead and make sure you use a neutral setting so neither dog is on another’s ‘territory’. This will immediately put both dogs on equal footing. Also, keep both dogs on a leash during this first meeting so that you are prepared to move your dog away should the meeting not go well.

One of the common issues with introducing dogs is that you often don’t know what they’ve been through. Sometimes you’re aware of their history and sometimes not. Some of these dogs have had unfortunate experiences in their past that has led them to be hesitant and even fearful or aggressive when meeting new dogs. All we have to go on is what the dog tells us. This can make it challenging when introducing your dog to one they’ve never met before. As the human facilitating the meeting, we must rely heavily on body language to help us determine the best way to have our dogs meet. Since dogs live in the present, their body language can change from minute to minute. Reading their body language in real time will help you socialize your dog with others. Observing their body language starts with where you look. Humans will want to look towards the eyes because, for a human, the eyes are the window to one’s soul and it’s how we most directly communicate. To a canine, your eyes will tell them what your intentions are for right now, at this moment. Canines use their ears, tail, fur on their haunches and even stiffness in their stance to broadcast to others what they are feeling. What a dog is looking at and its body language will tell you what its intentions are. When first introducing two new dogs to each other, observe their body language carefully. If they are both wagging their tails, mouths open, and ears and body relaxed, then you can safely introduce the two by first approaching the new dog yourself, crouch down, and extend your hand palm up for the dog to sniff. Once that has been done, you can bring your dog forward and allow the two dogs to meet and sniff each other.

Submissive body language, however, means their head and tail is medium to low height, ears are flat and relaxed, mouth is open showing their tongue and their whole body is loose.

Under-socialized submissive dogs may show different body language, like the tail wrapped up under and covering their behinds, ears folded back, and stance curved and tight. This shows fear. This dog would run behind you and hide instead of confidently being out in front when meeting new dogs. For a submissive, fearful dog, it is crucial that you show the dog that it is safe when meeting a new dog. This means you need to step forward in front of your dog to create a barrier and meet the incoming dog first and by extending your hand palm forward for the incoming dog to sniff, it is showing the fearful dog that it is safe to approach the new dog. And, as the new dog is sniffing your hand, your submissive dog will hopefully become curious and will go around and sniff their bum. This is what we are hoping for in a successful first meeting. I like to stay in the middle of the two dogs as they’re meeting for the first time going round and round sniffing each other. It is also important not to over-socialize them so that if your fearful dog has had a little sniff and been sniffed by the other dog and everything is going well you say,”Okay, let’s go”, pat your hip, and continue your walk. Don’t wait too long and let things go bad. Remember, less is more during the first meeting.

A confident under-socialized dog on the other hand will pull the leash tight to get to the other dog…it may even be barking aggressively towards them. This does not necessarily mean aggression…it could mean under-socialization. They need to learn to be less dominant and how to meet a new dog in a non-threatening way. This dog’s tail will be up and wagging, its whole body will be stiff, and its ears will be forward and up like satellite dishes. These dogs can be much more difficult to socialize due to their physical strength and the fact that it may be strenuously pulling you toward the other dog. The techniques I use to fix this depend on which body language I determine and how fast I can see the triggers of the dog.
If my dog sees a new dog and its whole body goes stiff right away, I will take the back of my hand and touch the inside of the dogs back leg. Your hand is mimicking a dog’s nose going in to sniff the other dogs’ groin, and what would you do if you were looking at something intently and then you felt someone snooping around your groin? You would stop and have a look! This maneuver can break your dogs dominant focus on that other dog instantly, if timed right. When the dog looks at you, start moving forward because a dog cannot unlock it state of mind unless its feet are moving, so once you’ve got its attention, you need to move forward. You literally could do a circle on the spot as long as you get the dog moving forward and break their dominant focus on the other dog.

In dog training, like with children, there isn’t just one technique that’s going to work all the time. I have a plethora of techniques that I have practised that I’m ready to pull out of my hat at any time…this is just one example.

In a worst-case scenario where a dog has been or is showing dominant body language towards another dog, I gather the leash up in my right hand so that my hand is ten inches away from the dog’s nose when the leash is tight. With my left hand I gently, calmly, and smoothly move my arm under the dog’s hips or waist to the other side and now calmly, gently, and smoothly lift the dogs back end up slightly, so its back paws just come off the ground. At this point, turn the dogs bum towards whatever dog it was being dominant to. This takes the dominance away and puts the dog in a submissive state and will actually facilitate a dog sniffing another dog’s bum in the proper manner.

This technique can also be used when introducing a new dog to your cat. While the general rule for two dogs is to have them meet in a neutral location, this is not going to work for your cat. In this case, you will be bringing your new dog home and introducing them to your cat there. A good tip is to have a tall cat post available or some high area so that your cat has somewhere to go if they feel scared. A cat’s natural instinct is to climb, especially when feeling threatened, so this will give them comfort. So, the first thing you want to do when bringing home a new dog is to keep them on the leash for the first little while until you know how the dog is going to react around the cat. When the dog sees the cat for the first time, its body language will tell you how it is going to react. If the ears are up and forward and the tail is down and relaxed then it is just curious. Allow the dog to approach the cat slowly and proceed with the greeting letting both animals sniff each other. If, however, the dog charges at the cat, you will immediately gather up your leash in your right hand so that the leash is tight so the dog’s nose is ten inches away from your hand. Then use the technique mentioned above and gently lift the dog’s hind end up off the floor and turn them around so that their bum is facing the cat and let the cat sniff the dog, if they so choose. Keep doing this every time the dog goes for the cat until they stop charging them.

Keeping in mind the importance of reading your dog’s body language, meeting in a neutral environment, having our dogs on leash, and utilizing the nose to bum technique will make our pets feel safe and secure and promote the best possible success when meeting new furry friends.

How To Manage Leash Aggression

By Peter Brown, Professional Dog Trainer, Alpha Paws

For many of us, walking our dog is a pleasant and enjoyable experience. With our dog on leash, we walk the neighbourhood, forest trails or wherever we choose and our dog walks happily with us, occasionally stopping to smell the earthy scents along the way. We both enjoy our time outdoors and our walk.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case and, for some of us, the experience is unpleasant and stressful. Some of our dogs experience what’s called ‘leash aggression’, which leads to a much more challenging walk for both the human and the dog. Leash aggression happens when you are walking your dog on a leash and everything is fine until they see another dog, person, bird, squirrel or other distraction…and then your dog pulls sharply on the leash and barks, lunges or, in some cases, will try to attack the distraction. Often, it’s caused by a previous experience being attacked by another dog that creates this fear and anxiety and makes them react when they see something that reminds them of that bad experience. This, in turn, can trigger the dogs fight or flight instinct and, just like a wild animal, if they can’t run away, it feels like their only choice is to attack. The instinct can also be triggered by human error using the leash if we keep it too tight while walking our dog. When the leash is too tight, the dog feels like it can’t get away, so it has to attack every distraction it encounters. What makes it want to attack another dog? Well, often we let the dog out in front of us on the leash and the dog is now in the lead position and pulling on a tight leash. This is triggering two different states ~ one is the feeling that they need to protect us, their human, from any perceived threat and the other is the instinct that they can’t run away so they have to attack.

Some rescue dogs have spent time on the streets defending themselves in the wild, which brings with it added challenges that must also be overcome. This can be done with lots of love, patience, and consistency. It’s also important to remember that some dogs bark at other dogs and lunge towards them not aggressively but for socialization because they want to go see them. It’s important to identify what your dog’s intentions are and then act appropriately.

Another helpful tip to reduce leash aggression when walking your dog is to exercise them first for about 20 minutes before walking them. It’s important to note that walking is not exercising, it is training! To really exercise your dog, you need to get them running. This removes all of the excited energy that they have pent up from being inside and they can also go to the bathroom before you begin your walk. This will help reduce the aggression that your dog may feel when approaching distractions because they will be tired from previous exercise.

After the exercise, but before you take your dog on a walk, it is important to do some focus exercises with them before you actually start your walk. Having your dog’s full attention focused on you before you even start your walk can make all the difference in their leash aggression and can often eliminate it completely because with the dog’s attention on you, they feel less anxious because they trust that you will lead them well and not into danger. And they will also be too busy focusing on you during the walk and will be less likely to become leash aggressive when they encounter distractions.

FOCUS is crucial with training. You must have your dog’s full attention before starting any training session or walk. It is like when a teacher walks into the classroom and the papers are flying around and the kids are all noisy. The teacher doesn’t just start the class. First, they say…attention…attention, and when all calms down and eyes are on the teacher, then the class begins…and for a very important reason ~ if the students are not paying attention to the teacher, then they are not learning anything. This is what focus work is all about and starts by leading your dog.

Focus work should not take more than a few minutes. Begin by focusing them first inside your home. You want to have their full attention on you before going outside. Some focus techniques include walking back and forth quickly in different directions with your dog beside you on the leash. Pat your hip and use lots of motivation and praise to get them to follow you and focus their attention completely on you. You want to change directions often so that your dog learns to focus on you and the direction you are going. Avoid too much repetition which quickly becomes boring for your dog. Once you have their full attention and they are following your direction, then you are ready to begin your walk.

When beginning a walk, if your dog goes to the wrong side of you, direct them to the correct side. VERY IMPORTANT: HOLD YOUR SPOT! Gently guide your dog back to the correct spot and loosen the leash. Use a lot of motivation, pat the side of your leg while saying things like, “Let’s go, good girl” or “This side, good boy”. Follow up with love and praise once they have reached the correct side. You want your dog to know that being beside you is good and where they want to be.

While having your dog at your side on a loose leash, at some point they will see another dog, person or other distraction and its ears will perk up like satellite dishes, their whole body will go stiff, and their tail will be up and possibly wagging. If you see this body posture and you sense that they are about to become aggressive, then start by gently touching the inside of your dog’s back leg with the back of your hand. This represents another dog’s nose going in to sniff your dog’s groin, which is the universal dog-to-dog greeting and no matter what your dog is interested in at the time, when you touch that spot, they will turn and divert and look at you. This should help distract your dog from their aggressive response to the encounter and allow you to continue walking by the other dog.

The distraction may only last for a second but in that second you can lead the dog away using lots of praise, a high-pitched voice saying, “Okay, let’s go” and continually patting your hip beside the dog so they know where they are supposed to go. If the dog does not follow you and turns back to the distraction and continues to bark, lunge and/or growl, then you’re going to use the drop and turn technique. The drop and turn with a loose leash technique is the best way to keep your dog from triggering their fight or flight instinct and becoming aggressive when walking with you on their leash.

This is a very important technique to utilize, especially when you’re out on a walk. If your dog is distracted and becomes aggressive while walking on a leash, it is useful to refocus them back to you quickly and get their mind off of what is agitating them. Whether it is a dog, cat, a leaf blowing by or a child, you can capture your dog’s focus quickly and effectively with the drop and turn technique. During your walk when you encounter something that triggers them, simply drop the middle of the leash while holding on to the handle with your other hand so that they are now on a loose leash, turn and walk in the other direction from where the dog is pulling. Keep your hands with the leash down at your waist. Your dog will get to the end of the leash and will not be able to go any further. At this point, pat your side and use lots of motivation telling your dog, “Let’s go” and “This way” in an excited, high-pitched voice while you continue to lead the dog away from the distraction. Keep using this technique until your dog is focused on you and follows you away from the distraction. Once they do, give them lots of praise and keep walking!!!

Let’s Talk Games!

By Lynda Kitson, Owner, Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centres

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to rent Shari’s Playpen. It’s a fully fenced 110 x 110-foot field in north Pickering. If you’ve been reading my previous articles, you’ll know that at Who’s Walking Who, we use a combination of Positive Reward and Games Based training. I decided to take a leap of faith and offer only games-based classes using games developed by Absolute Dogs in the U.K. and the results were beyond our expectations…so much so that we had to add more classes.

So, why were these so popular? Because the games work on concepts, the struggles that many dogs have in everyday life (i.e. on a walk OR off leash OR reacting to things passing by OR being able to calm down when excited OR someone knocking at the door, and other inappropriate behaviours). Don’t get me wrong, we still love Positive Reward Obedience training; however, that type of training is best for teaching your dog what a word means, like ‘sit’, ‘down’ or ‘stay’. However, that method of training doesn’t work on concepts like impulse control and disengagement. It would be like someone telling you “Just be confident” in a situation where you just don’t feel confident. You need to change how your brain thinks in order to be confident.

Let me give you an easy example of this. Your dog sees something on the ground they want or you accidentally drop something on the ground that they want to dive for. You can say ‘leave it’ but are you always going to notice when there’s something on the ground that they shouldn’t have? Wouldn’t it be better if they saw the thing on the ground and decided that’s none of their business and left it alone? That’s what concept games-based training is all about ~ changing the way they think.

Games Based Concept training is an innovative approach and considered to be the next evolution in dog training. More and more facilities are starting to offer this method of training. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach, which is how obedience training is done. Instead, each dog is looked at as an individual to determine the three main weaknesses in the dog’s brain or personality. Then we select games that will grow those concepts to help the dog make more appropriate choices. It’s not about telling the dog what to do or teaching an alternative behaviour (such as telling a dog to sit when jumping up). It’s neuroscience. It’s about building and strengthening neural pathways and re-shaping your dog’s brain. You train FOR the situation not IN the situation.

Absolute Dogs has created over 300 games. Each game works on 3 to 7 concepts and there are 14 concepts in all. Here are concepts they work on and a brief explanation of each:

Calmness – being able to remain calm, rather than barking, lunging, jumping up, hiding, shaking, etc. when someone comes to the door or out in public.
Confidence – are they comfortable in new situations or do they get stressed or react by barking, lunging, etc.?
Disengagement – your dog makes the decision to move away from something rather than engaging or investigating, especially when you call them.
Engagement – your dog chooses to interact with you even when that pesky squirrel is flipping its tail at them.
Flexibility – having the ability to change their behaviour or emotional state in exciting situations like on a walk or calling them to come.
Focus – being much more interested in us rather than the environment and checking in with us to make sure they know where we are, especially off leash.
Grit – when presented with a challenge or something new they’ve never done, do they step up or give up?
Independence – are they able to spend time away from you or do they struggle with separation anxiety?
Novelty – when they see something new, strange or different, do they see it as a good thing and ignore it or a scary thing and bark or cower?
Optimism – when they see the world as a good and friendly place when new things or changes happen. Many dogs are pessimistic and we see a lot of this in rescues.
Proximity – you are the best deal and you dog sees value in being close to you. They enjoy being close to you on walks.
Self-Control/Impulse-Control – their ability to control themselves when seeing something they want, like that half-eaten hamburger on the ground or a bunny munching grass.
Thinking in Arousal – can they listen and respond to you when they are excited, worried or scared. Do they have a dimmer switch allowing them to bring their own arousal level down a few notches?
Tolerance of Frustration – do they get frustrated or anxious when things don’t happen when they expect them to? Like at mealtime or when you normally go out for a walk.

Here’s how it works. If you have a dog that pulls on leash and wants to chase squirrels or barks and lunges at other dogs, we might work on concepts such as disengagement, proximity, and impulse control. If your dog prefers to ignore you when off-leash and not come when called, we might work on thinking in arousal, flexibility, and disengagement. A dog with separation anxiety might best be helped by playing games that work on confidence, independence, and tolerance of frustration. Remember, not all dogs are the same. There may be other concepts that are more applicable to your dog.

The best part…many of our students have told us that these programs have done more for their dog than ALL the obedience training they have done before! They love how much fun it is, how quickly they start to see changes in their dog, and how it transfers into real-life! What we love is that we’re hearing this not only from those who got their dog as a pup, but those who have adopted rescues. Who knew training your dog could be so much fun!?

Meet & Greet

By Lynda Kitson, Owner, Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centres

“It’s okay, my dog is friendly!”

This article is going to be about one of my pet peeves. We live in an area where we have a lovely ravine behind our home. It stretches for quite a distance. There’s lots of green space and it’s quite beautiful. I walk our dogs through that area every day and sometimes twice a day. Even though there’s lots of space, our dogs are always on leash. They’re either on a regular leash or a long line.

As a dog lover and trainer, one of the things that drives me crazy are people who allow their dog off leash in areas that are not designated off-leash parks. I come across this time and time again in the green space area where I walk our dogs. Many dogs do not know how to meet and greet properly and this is where situations can become dangerous and even turn ugly. Some dogs are more tolerant of others, but many are not.

Often people who have their dog off leash will say “it’s okay, my dog is friendly”. That’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that my dog is friendly or will be friendly with them. If a dog goes running right up into Star’s face, there’s a good chance she’ll tell them to back off. And she’s right, because that’s simply not appropriate, in fact, it’s downright rude. Imagine a stranger coming right up into your face. How would you feel?

Appropriate greetings between dogs that are unfamiliar with each other starts with them greeting each other cautiously. The body language is often not relaxed as each dog is observing the response of the other dog. They then meet nose to nose slowly not making direct eye contact. They only spend 3 to 5 seconds at the face area and then move to the rear for 10 – 15 seconds. After that, they decide if they are going to move on, do nothing and just chill with the other dog, offer a play bow and see if it’s reciprocated or decide they don’t like the dog and react by either lunging, growling, snapping or barking. A dog that runs straight up to your dog without going through the preliminary steps is likely to be greeted with a growl, snap or bark.

Some dogs are very much like introverts. We have all known people who are very uncomfortable at a party where they hardly know anyone. You may be one of them. You try to start a conversation with someone you don’t know (or hope no one tries to start a conversation with you) and you get stuck. You have no idea what to say next. Or you don’t know how to end the conversation so you can leave. It’s a very uncomfortable and awkward feeling.

This can also happen to dogs. They meet a new dog and sniff noses and then one of them gets stuck and doesn’t move to the rear. Or they spend too much time at the rear. Star had to learn by watching other dogs how to meet and greet appropriately. When she was young, she’d just jump into their faces ~ very bad manners indeed. Now, she won’t tolerate anyone that does that to her.

Our dogs do not meet and greet every dog they meet on our walks, for the very reason that some dogs don’t do it appropriately and I know it won’t be a pleasant experience for either dog. People often think that because dogs are social creatures, they need to meet every dog they see. But that’s not the case. People are social beings too. But do we meet and greet everyone we see on the street? Of course not. In fact, there may be some people we have no interest in meeting or purposely avoid. So why do we think our dogs should meet every dog they see?

I completely understand if you want to give your dog freedom by letting them off leash but do it where dogs are allowed to run off leash. Depending on where you live, the fine for allowing your dog off leash in a non-designated area can result in fines upwards of $200 per dog. If you’re trying to teach your dog recall (coming when called), then put them on a 15 or 30 foot long-line. I use these on our dogs. The great thing about long lines is that most bylaws don’t stipulate a maximum length of leash. It only states that dogs must be leashed. At least if your dog is on a long line and they start running towards a dog that may not appreciate it, you can quickly get your dog back to you and out of harms way.

If your dog doesn’t come back to you each and every time you call them, they are not ready to be allowed off leash, especially if you can’t call them away from another dog. More importantly, you may be putting your own dog at risk by allowing them that freedom.

The Importance of the Leash

By Peter Brown, Owner & Professional Dog Trainer, Alpha Paws

Your leash is a vital tool in dog training and knowing how to use it properly is crucial to success with your dog.

Leash handling is the ability to connect with and direct your dog to anywhere you want them to go using your leash. Operating your leash is as important to leading your dog as the reins on a horse. When people ride horses, they do so with nothing more than a little leather strap connected to a 1,500 lb animal. The rider can’t physically hold the animal back using brute strength alone. What they can do is use their body movements and the horses’ reins to indicate the appropriate direction. This is what leash handling is all about ~ doing the same thing with your dog using the leash.

The art of the technique is keeping the leash loose at all times. The only time it should ever be tight is for that split second when you’re correcting your dog away from things like danger, going the wrong way or an unwanted distraction, and then you should immediately return right back to a loose leash again. The more you hold back on a tight leash, the more your dog is going to try and pull. This is where human instinct can fail us. Our problem, as humans, is that our instincts tell us to hold tight on that leash to keep the dog from pulling or getting away. Instead, you need to resist those instincts and practice keeping that leash loose and releasing that collar immediately after every quick tug that you exert upon the leash when directing your dog. And combine that with lots of motivation and verbal praise like patting your leg while calling the dog’s name and saying, “good dog”, “let’s go”, and “this way!” in a happy voice as they follow your direction. You are mimicking mother dog, who is giving her pup a quick tug at the neck to tell them to follow her. It often communicates lifesaving information like follow me this way, stay away from that, be quiet, and danger nearby.

Another good leash technique to use when walking a dog that pulls is to put the leash behind your back and hold the loop locked tight to your body on the side opposite of the dog so that you can use your legs and whole body to resist when they start pulling you, without getting your arm yanked off. People typically have more strength in their waist and legs and find it easier to control a strong puller using this technique. At the same time, stay balanced and keep your feet slightly apart and firmly placed on the ground. When the dog pulls, you will feel the leash tighten across your thigh. Take a step forward with your right leg and then one step back with your left. It looks very much like a baseball stance and will create a quick pull and release on the leash and sets the ‘line in the sand’ where the dog learns it can’t cross and pull you. This technique is particularly useful in elevators and vet offices ~ anywhere in tight quarters.

One things dogs love to do when you’re not paying attention to them is picking up something they know they’re not allowed to have and come and show it to you. If you take a step towards the dog, they will instinctively run away and start the chase-me game, which is exactly what they want and what you do not. If you have a leash on instead of moving towards them, you can move towards the end of the leash. This eliminates the chase and allows you to control your dog with ease.

Another important piece of advice for someone who wants to learn how to operate their leash properly would be to keep an eye on your elbows. We humans have a bad habit of bending our elbows as soon as we are holding a leash, especially the left elbow, and we pull the leash straight up in response to our dogs pulling which can cause damage to the dog’s neck and should be avoided at all costs. The proper direction is not up…it’s to the side, so keep your elbows straight to avoid pulling up.

When you’re raising a rescue dog, it’s best at first to keep a leash on them most of the time. Think of it like the training wheels for your bike ~ you’re not going to use them forever; however, you need to get your balance before you take away that safety net. Having the leash attached to your dog allows you to control your dog and their actions and is an important way to teach your dog so they learn what proper behaviour is. If your dog misbehaves, all you have to do is step on that leash to grab it and you are now able to direct your dog to the correct behaviour or location that you want them in. Remember, the leash is your connection to your dog and using it correctly with the proper body language is how you communicate with them.

Leash your Connection

By Peter Brown, Professional Dog Trainer, Alpha Paws

Your leash is not just a simple accessory. It is an extension of your arm and your connection to your dog, which allows you to communicate with and ensure the safety of your dog when out in public. That irresistible impulse that many of us dog lovers have when we bring our new pup home is to play and frolic with it off leash as we bond and build our relationship with this new family member. And while this is an excellent and extremely fun thing to do and one, I highly recommend, it’s important to keep in mind the appropriate time and place to do this. I suggest for at least the first two years of your time spent with your new dog, you do it with your dog on a leash when out in public. The general rule is to not off-leash your dog until they are at least two years old, which for a puppy is when it is past its teenage years. Just like humans, teenage dogs are the most obstinate and disrespectful they will ever be, so true off leash really should start after that. For rescue dogs already older than two, spending the first six months to a year together and bonding with the leash on first and forming a strong relationship built on mutual love and respect is vital if you hope to successfully off leash your dog in the future. You want to be able to know for sure that they will come to you when you call, reliably and consistently, 100% of the time. And with a rescue dog you have the added dimension of the fact that you don’t always know what it has been through in its past life. Neglected or abused dogs or even just dogs that have had several different homes and been moved around a lot need to bond with their new owners first before you off leash them. And remember, there is a big difference between a dog willing to come to you in the house when you call and a dog willing to come to you out in public during distractions like a squirrel or another dog.

The danger of off leashing your dog too early is that it can result in that moment when everything goes from being great, to panic and thinking suddenly we have a major problem! It is crucial that you have built a relationship with your dog first where you know that they will come to you immediately when you call before you attempt off leash, especially in public. This is for their safety above all else. If you truly want your dog trained off leash then using a loose leash technique is a must! It’s curious how many people feel like nothing bad will ever happen when they take their dog off leash. But trust is earned and your dog must earn your trust first. And while I believe in always leashing my dog when in public (unless I am in a very sparsely populated location with no other dogs around) if you want to off leash yours, then it’s best to ensure your dog is flawless at recall on a loose leash first.

I find one of the best ways to test your dog off leash is in a fenced-in area. This can be tested first using a long line until you are confident in your dog’s recall. Then practise with a leash dragging which will allow you to quickly grab the leash and direct your dog as needed while maintaining control and keeping everyone safe and happy. I like to use two leashes, one for outside and the other for inside so if one gets peed on it won’t be dragging through your living room. Also, if you find your dog is chewing through the leash then that means one of two things. Either you’re holding the leash too tight or the dog is unsupervised. For safety, dogs on leashes should never be unsupervised.

Another great way to test your dogs off leash readiness is to take the opportunity on every walk (on leash) to call your dog when you see they are distracted. It’s natural that at some point your dog will see, hear or smell something and its ears will perk up as they become distracted. That moment is a great time to test your dog by first loosening off on the leash and calling them to see what happens. Do this at different times and for different distractions each time until you have tested your dog in every situation there is. You want to cover as many scenarios as possible so that you are ready for anything because there is no guarantee that your dog is going to truly listen to you in a dangerous or distracted environment until you have practiced and been successful numerous times. Then, both you and your dog will have the confidence you need to move forward together with off leash.

So, what about off-leash parks? Is it okay for me to off leash my dog there? My response is that off-leash parks can be positive or negative and it all depends on who is there. It is very important for you to be aware of the other dogs’ body language as you enter the park so as not to expose your dog to aggressive or dominant dogs that may overwhelm or even attack your dog while at the park. It is for this reason that I try to avoid off-leash parks whenever I can. In theory, they are great but theories don’t always work out. Off-leash parks tend to attract the worst type of dog owner like the guy who’s had his German Shepherd in a crate for 10 hours and then drives to the off-leash park and lets it run loose where it proceeds to attack and/or dominate other dogs while he stands by with a glazed look on his face. Only when enough people yell at him about his unruly dog does he take it away and meanwhile, your dog remembers the lifelong trauma. When considering off leashing your dog, keep in mind that there is no reason you cannot test your dog every day on leash for off leash ability. Let your dog prove to you that it can do off leash and set them up for success all around.

To Treat or Not to Treat

By Lynda Kitson, Owner, Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centres

That is the question. But really, it’s not! Did you know that you don’t need to use treats to reward your Golden. Yes, that’s right! Even when you’re teaching your pooch a new word or how to do something. It’s called Ditch the Bowl.

This is something we tell all our students. Now, what do we mean by ditch the bowl? It simply means stop feeding your dog out of a bowl and here’s why…
Right now, if you’re feeding your dog out of a bowl, they have an awesome relationship with their bowl. Think about it. You take out your dog’s bowl and their eyes light up. You put their food into the bowl and they get super excited! It’s their favourite time of day. In fact, they may have started bugging you about chow time before it’s time to be fed. Dogs have incredible internal clocks.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. You take that bowl of food and you place it on the floor…for free! You might have asked them to wait until you tell them it’s okay to eat. But they still get that entire bowl of food for basically doing nothing. That kibble is currency. After all, you had to pay for it with your hard-earned money.

Let me ask you this…do you get your food for free? Probably not. You go to work so you can make money (or if you’re retired, you use money that you’ve already worked for), so you can go to the grocery store and buy food, where you then bring it home, put it away, take it out to cook it or mix it up into a salad, and place it on a plate where you then set it on your table and eat it. There was a whole lot of work that went into getting that food to your table. So, why not make your dog work for their food?

Granted, you can’t make them go to work but you can give them a job or teach them something and instead of rewarding them with treats, reward them with their kibble. Dogs are learning all the time. The easiest way to let them know that they did something right is by rewarding them with their food.

Dogs do not have to be fed twice a day at the same time every day. In fact, feeding them smaller amounts throughout the day can benefit those dogs with tummy issues. The great thing about using their food to reward them is that you don’t have to worry about your Golden gaining weight (something we know Goldens are prone to). You simply take the amount you would normally feed them and use it for training or rewarding good behaviour.

If you don’t use the entire amount that day, you can always do what’s called ‘scatter feeding’. This is when you take handfuls of food and toss it in a small area in your backyard for your dog to go find or in a room in your house. Just be careful it doesn’t roll under furniture because your pooch will become relentless at trying to figure out how to get it. Scatter feeding is also a great way to help calm your dog. It fuels their natural instinct to search for food or prey. You can also use a snuffle mat or puzzle toys. Puzzle toys or puzzle feeders stimulate their brain because they need to figure out how to get their food.

You also don’t have to feed them exactly the same amount every day. It’s all about it averaging out over the week. Do you eat the same amount of food every day? I know I don’t. Some days I eat more, some days less and I often snack in between meals. I also don’t eat at the same time every day. If you notice your dog gaining a little weight, then you cut back their food a little. If it seems they’ve lost too much weight, then you add a little more.

The great thing about ditching the bowl is that your dog no longer has a relationship with their bowl. Instead, they start to develop a much stronger relationship with you.

If you have a Golden that is not interested in their food (we don’t see many, but I have encountered a few), scatter feeding or ‘bowling’ their food usually gets them engaged and eager to hunt for it, except in the case of an underlying medical condition. These are dogs that want to work for their food. Placing it in a bowl is boring to them.

Here’s another thing about using kibble for training ~ it’s easier to wean them off kibble once they’ve learned the behaviour you want. How many of you have had a dog that will only do something if you have a treat in your hand? This is why we tell our students not to use treats for training ~ use their food.

The time when you may need to use treats or high value food is when you’re out on a walk where there could be distractions or off leash where you need a solid recall. Kibble probably won’t cut it in these situations because the environment is probably more interesting or exciting to your dog. If I was busy looking at something that I found interesting and Vaughan said, your salad’s ready, I wouldn’t be in a rush to get to it. But if he said he got me an ice cream cone, I’d be there in a flash. Not because the ice cream would melt, but because I love ice cream. Here’s the key thing about high value food ~ it’s not what you consider to be high value, it’s what your dog considers to be high value. Tula deems carrots to be high value. Augie would do anything for Goldfish crackers. For Star, it’s apples. It’s all in the eye of the beholder or rather the mouth of the Golden.

If you would like more information on ditching the bowl, please email me at and I’ll send you a great e-book from Absolute Dogs on Ditch the Bowl. They have two versions ~ one for kibble and one for raw diets. Let me know which version you would like and I’ll send it to you.

Training is Simple…But It’s Not Easy

By Lynda Kitson, Owner, Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centres

I’m currently taking another course on advanced behavioural dog training and something the presenter said to me really hit home and that is “training is simple, but it’s not easy”.

It’s very true! Training a dog is not rocket science. It’s not like learning algebra or performing heart surgery. Even training children can be challenging. So why should dog training be any easier? Our biggest struggle as humans is that we forget that our dog it just that, a dog. It’s not human, but as humans we tend to try to humanize them, and that’s our downfall.

One of our first hurdles is that our dogs don’t communicate verbally. The only verbal communication they offer is barking or growling. When they do bark, most of us tell them to be quiet. By the way, never tell or reprimand a dog for growling. That’s their warning signal for you or whoever to stop. Dogs instead communicate through body language and are masters at it. This is also why they pick up on hand signals much faster than words.

As humans, we talk all the time. Even when we speak to our dogs, we speak in sentences. Dogs, at adulthood (usually about two years of age) only have the ability to learn approximately 165 to 200 words. That’s not much considering we use approximately 20,000 words in daily conversation. Our constant chatter becomes white noise to our dogs. This is no different from when we turn on the radio or television for background noise ~ a lot of the time, we’re not really listening to it. I don’t know how many times I have purposely turned on the radio to hear the weather and then completely missed it because I got busy with something else. This is what our constant chattering is like for our dogs.

There are some words that our dogs seem to learn much faster than others such as dinner, cookie, treat, etc. I just have to say carrots or melon and my dogs come running because they love those foods. Dogs quickly learn the words that are important to them. “Sit”, “down” or “stay” aren’t important to them. Those words are important to us. That’s why training our dog is not easy. Words like that take longer to teach. Imagine if you were visiting a friend and they told you to jump. Why would you? What’s in it for you if you jump? You were just standing there, now your friend tells you to jump. Now if someone said chocolate to me, I’d be right there. I’d even jump for it.

Another hurdle is that at adulthood, dogs have the maturity level of about a human three-year-old child. It takes time and patience for a three-year-old child to learn things. So, why do we expect our dog (or a young pup) to learn faster than a child? That’s just not realistic! We often make training harder than it should be and get frustrated because we expect our dog to learn faster than what they are capable of.

Loose leash walking is another hurdle. I always tell my students that teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash is going to be the hardest thing for them to learn. In most cases, it takes months. So why is this so hard? It’s because it’s not natural for dogs to walk next to anything. If you watch dogs when they are off leash, they will come together, check each other out, sniff the ground, and then go their own way. A few may come back together to check something out or have a game of chase and then break it off. You will not see two dogs walking shoulder to shoulder down the green space. That’s a human thing. It’s what we do. We walk side by side and have a conversation with each other. Dogs don’t do that. They can’t figure out, for the life of them, why we don’t want to sniff the ground or go run and play when there are so many exciting things to check out.

Dogs have the most incredible noses, which pose another hurdle. They can pick up scents from kilometers away. An intact male can pick up the scent of a female in heat from 3 kms away. They know who or what has walked by earlier. For them, when they pick up the scent of something really interesting, it would be like us trying to track something that we’re trying to catch a glimpse of. So exciting!

I remember one time when Molly (a Golden who is no longer with us) and I were performing with the Woofjocks Canine Allstars at Canada’s Wonderland. My kids (who were adults) were there to watch the show. I was very concerned that Molly might pick up their scent while we were on stage and sure enough, she did. She jumped right off the stage, only to be quickly surrounded by a group of children who wanted to pat her. Fortunately, she loved children, but she was determined to find her family.

Training is not easy because we make it hard. We treat our dogs as if they are human beings, capable of learning like we do. That’s not fair to them. They are not human; they are a domesticated animal. They don’t communicate verbally and don’t have the mental ability to understand our language, only a selection of words. We ask them to do things which aren’t important to them and make no sense. In a nutshell, we set our expectations too high and forget that they are dogs.

When training your dog, put yourself in their paws. Understand and accept their limitations. Have patience. Learn what motivates them and don’t make so much white noise. All they want to do is make us happy, so let’s help them by realizing what it’s like to be a dog.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Training Tools

By Lynda Kitson, Owner, Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centres

In this article I want to talk about the many different types of training tools available for walking your Golden. It’s not about how to teach your dog to walk nicely with you. That’s a whole different subject. This is about the training apparatus itself.

It really is about the good, the bad, and the ugly because many of the tools available fall into one of those three categories. I’m going to talk about the different types of collars first and then delve into leashes.

One of the biggest reasons people come to our school is because their dog pulls on its leash, is distracted by squirrels, birds, other dogs or wants to go and meet everyone or is perhaps uncomfortable when they see another dog. Often people ask me “is it too much to expect my dog to walk nicely next to me?” My answer is always “Yes, actually it is”. The reason is this…your dog has access to you pretty much all the time when you’re at home. However, they don’t have access to the environment all the time. A dog sees the world through their nose, not their eyes. Dogs only see in shades of blue, yellow, and grey. Whereas a dog’s nose has up to 300 million olfactory receptors, while a human’s nose has about 6 million. Not allowing your dog to sniff while out on a walk would be the same as going to your favourite store with a friend and your friend not allowing you to look at anything.

The other reason why it isn’t easy for our dogs is because it’s not natural for them. If you watch dogs off leash, they don’t stroll along together taking in the sights. They may come together to check something out, but then they spread out to explore other things. Walking shoulder-to-shoulder is a human thing and is very weird to our dogs.

Let me start with the ‘ugly’. At Who’s Walking Who, we only use positive reward and games-based training methods. We do not allow the use of prong, choke, slip or e-collars. These all inflict pain, which is not a positive experience for our dogs. If you don’t believe me, put one of them around your neck and then pull hard or shock yourself with the e-collar.

In class, we have people start their training on a regular flat buckle collar, but there are times when the client may need a little more help. Most rescues require new adopters to use a martingale collar, because the dog can’t slip out of it. We’re not a fan of martingales, but we do allow them in class. The ‘bad’ thing about a martingale is if a dog pulls too much while wearing one, they can end up damaging their trachea. In these situations, we recommend using both a martingale along with either a harness or head collar to help with the pulling and reducing the risk of injury to the trachea.

Harnesses are a good option if you buy the right type and size and use it correctly. Harnesses limit the dog’s ability to pull forward but don’t hinder jumping up. They must have an ‘O’ or ‘D’ ring on the front where the strap goes across the chest. If you have a dog that pulls, do not use the ring on the back. This gives your Golden full pulling power and turns them into a sled dog. No pull harnesses are great, just make sure they don’t chafe under the front legs of your Golden. They also have to be fitted properly so that there is not a lot of give in the front.

Head collars, also known as halties, cannies, etc. are great and are the ones we most recommend. Head collars help with both pulling and jumping up. They were designed after a horse’s head harness, which is used to lead horses around. Many people think they are muzzles. They are not. Your Golden can take and eat treats while wearing one. They also need to be fitted properly or they could cause injury to the neck. There should be two areas that can be adjusted ~ the one that goes over the nose and the one that goes behind their head. If it doesn’t have a nose adjustment, stay away from it, because one size doesn’t fit all noses and many dogs can get their nose out of it. If you find the part that goes over the nose chafes a little, put a piece of mole skin under it.

Now you may have already tried your Golden on a head halter and gave up because they kept pawing at it or making a big fuss about it. The most important thing about head collars is that you need to desensitize your dog to wearing one first! Once you’ve done that, wearing one is a breeze. If you’ve been reading my articles in the Guardian or seen my previous webinars, you know that we incorporate a lot of games-based training. So, believe it or not, there’s a game for desensitizing your dog to wearing a head halter or harness. If you want to learn how to do that, register to watch the replay of my webinar ‘Leashes, Halters, and Harnesses, Oh My!’ recorded on Tuesday, May 18th.

On to leashes…we recommend a regular 2-meter (6-foot) leash. This allows you to quickly adjust how much lead they have. The leash should not be kept tight and short. When that happens, the dog will instinctively pull or strain to get ahead. This would be like your friend grabbing your arm. You would naturally want to pull it away from them.

Bungie leashes give your dog too much flexibility when walking. But they are great to use when you’re jogging or riding a bike. Retractable leashes are dangerous. We know of a couple of situations where the dog pulled and the stop button released allowing the dog to run into the street and get hit by a car. With a retractable, the dog is always straining to get to the end of the lead. However retractable leashes are great for teaching your dog recall.

Long lines are even better for teaching recall and that’s what they’re meant to be used for.

If you’re interested in learning about desensitizing your dog to a head collar or harness or how to properly hold a leash and use long lines for recall, register to watch the replay of ‘Leashes, Halters, and Harnesses, Oh My!’

Turning That ‘No’ into a ‘Yes’

By Peter Brown, Professional Dog Trainer, Alpha Paws

Golden Retrievers are beautiful, loyal, and loving animals and also masters at manipulating their humans for love, attention, and food. One look from those adoring eyes is usually enough to fold even the strongest of dispositions. In their mind, if the adoring look doesn’t work then maybe if I put my head in your lap, lean into you or put my paw on you until you notice, then you’ll give me what I want. When our dogs invade our space, our first reaction is often to reach out and touch, pet or cuddle them not realizing how theirs is actually quite demanding behaviour that can lead to dominance issues down the road. As the saying goes, you teach people how to treat you and when you allow your dog to constantly invade your space and demand attention, then you teach them that they can do this whenever they want without being invited and that your space is not respected. Instead, when this happens, and you want to give your dog some love, the easiest thing to do is to take a step away from your dog crouching down and calling them to you. Make the dog come to you and when they do, reward them generously. If you are always the one approaching the dog, swarming them with love, then the dog might totally snub you when you’re trying to get them to come to you. You want your dog to be eager to come to you for love but if they get too much they won’t. This will also make using the ‘come’ command a lot easier. Remember that even for dogs, too much can be annoying. Whether saying no to your cute cuddle bug or to your own impulses, this is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do but is essential to your relationship long-term. Like children, indulging them all the time does not make them well behaved and will instead lead to them becoming spoiled, demanding, and selfish. This is why it’s important to be able to say ‘no’ to your dog and here are some tips you can use to turn that ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.

It’s totally acceptable to say ‘no’ to your dog but it’s important that you don’t leave it at that. You’re not truly finished until you’ve hit the ‘yes’ and shown your dog what they can do. The first thing you should do when you want your dog to know that you mean business is to stand up. You cannot properly train your dog from a seated position. And yelling across the room will only teach your dog that you’re not serious about what you are saying. Your body language is so important when working with your dog and is crucial to the way our dogs understand us. For best results, try and replicate, with your own behaviour, how a dog shows another dog when they mean business. If you stand up straight and tall holding your whole body stiff while looking down at the dog through the corner of your eye, then they will know you are serious and not fooling around and they must respect your space. It’s important that you do NOT loom over the dog staring them directly in the eyes because then the dog may perceive this as a challenge and react negatively.

Now that you have shown the dog what they can’t do, it’s time to show them what they can. To get to the ‘yes’ first, we must know the dog’s currency. Do they prefer to have something in their mouth like a cherished toy (this is often a favourite for Goldens)? Or is it a chest pat, ear scratch or bum rub they prefer? Each dog has different rewards that they like more than others and you want to use the one your dog loves the most.

Once you determine what your dog really likes, it’s now time to use it; however, the timing is crucial. Most people say ‘no’ to their dog for a quick second and if they don’t get a good response, then move on and try something else or worse, give up. When you’re holding the no stance (standing tall with head turned away looking at the dog through the corner of your eye) you need to hold it for a little longer. It’s like playing a game of chicken with your dog and whoever is the last to give up is the winner. You need to hold that stance until your dog shows you a submissive sign by either sitting and/or laying down or you see their ears turning down and falling back or a combination of these.

While you’re holding your stance and as soon as the dog shows you those submissive signals, crouch down and praise them. Now is your chance to give the dog a toy or the best belly rubs they’ve ever had. Even when praising your dog though, it is recommended that you don’t pet them too rough. Rough, fast contact and scrunching the fingers in their coat can replicate biting and you don’t want your dog to think you’re biting them. This will only encourage rough play and dominant behaviour.

One of the things I always say is that dogs love to have a job to do and they really love to please us, so rewarding for good behaviour (the ‘yes’) is very important. This is especially true when it immediately follows you telling them ‘no’ for their undesirable behaviour. It will teach your dog to be mannerly and listen and to do what they’re told and that when they do, they will be rewarded handsomely.

As dog owners, we are all human and loving our dogs and wanting to fulfill all of their needs is normal and understandable. Knowing how cute and cuddly your dog is makes it very difficult to say ‘no’ but ultimately having a strong ‘no’ allows you to get to the ‘yes’ faster and establishes boundaries for you and your dog to thrive and helps ensure a long healthy relationship between you and your pup.