How to Be Fun So Your Dog Will Like You

Posted on June 17, 2021June 17, 2021Categories Common Mistakes Owners Make

Your dog loves you.

A lot.

But does your dog actually… like you?

“Like” is different from “love.” Even as you are reading this, I bet you can think of a family member you love deeply, but who also annoys the heck out of you.

I meet a lot of dogs who feel that way about their people.

Here are some signs that your dog might be… conflicted… about you:

  1. When you call your dog, they look back at you and you can see the suspicion in their face. “Why…?” the dog seems to be asking.
  2. When you have your dog on a leash, they usually stand at the far end of it – as far from you as they can get – and studiously ignore you.
  3. Your dog won’t sit or lie down unless you show them the money first – in other words, you need a treat in your hand.
  4. Your dog yawns a lot when you’re walking them or training them.
  5. When you say your dog’s name, they don’t look over at you or wag their tail.
  6. Whenever you ask your dog to do something, they feel a sudden need to sit down and scratch for a while first, or stretch as if they’ve just gotten up from a nap.
  7. Your dog isn’t particularly interested in playing with you.
  8. Your dog’s tail hangs loose when you’re doing things together.
  9. If you drop the leash by accident, your dog takes off immediately and won’t let you get close enough to pick up the leash again.
  10. Your dog dodges away when you reach for them.

Now, I want to reiterate – your dog LOVES you!

…But that doesn’t mean your dog thinks you’re fun to be around.

If you checked a lot of boxes on that list above, I can pretty much guarantee that your dog thinks you’re a no-fun fuddy-duddy party-pooper.

But that changes today! Because today you’re going to learn how to be FUN.

1. Speed Up

Dogs like to go fast. They have twice as many legs as we do and they like to move at a brisk trot. If you want to have a frustrating walk, go slow. If you want to have a fun walk, speed up. Break into jogs. Speed walk. Try to get your dog to keep up for a change, instead of slow down and wait for you.

2. Be Unpredictable

Straight lines are boring. Mix it up! Move in figure eights, zig zags, or do sudden u-turns, especially when your dog isn’t paying attention. Dogs like variety, and they hate moving in straight lines. If you’re so wacky that they never know what you’re going to do next, they’ll be much more entertained.

3. Stop Giving Orders

Unless you’re into square dancing, you’re not likely to have fun while someone is constantly telling you what to do. Instead of giving orders, give feedback. Wait for them to get something right and praise them for it. Heck, start praising them before they get something right. You won’t believe how many dogs stop dragging on the leash and turn into model canine citizens at the sound of a “good dog!”

4. Be Extra

Dogs love melodrama. Did your dog ignore that McDonald’s wrapper on the ground? They are now the BEST DOG IN THE WORLD. Did your dog accidentally pull you over? YOU ARE NOW DYING and you’ll NEVER WALK AGAIN. Did your dog just lick your hand? They are the CUTEST BEST DOGGO and they just SAVED YOUR LIFE.

Exaggerate your facial expressions – yes, dogs can and do read human facial expressions – and your voice. Make dramatic gestures. Get in touch with your inner drama queen. Your dog will love every second of it.

5. Carry Good Stuff.

A bag of kibble is a good place to start, but you should also have some high value treats stashed somewhere on your person, to be whipped out when the moment requires it. You should also have a tug toy, squeaky ball, or some other item that lives in your coat pocket and spontaneously emerges for celebratory games of tug when your dog successfully looks away from another dog or manages to go three whole sidewalk squares without pulling you over.

6. Variety, Variety, Variety.

For most dogs, variety is definitely the spice of life. The smarter your dog is the sooner your dog will get bored. Don’t do the same old thing day in and day out. Rotate toys, tricks, and treats.

7. Give Your Dog Jobs.

Just like children, dogs want to feel important and needed. Include your dog in your daily routine, and give them little responsibilities – like putting your laundry into the clothes hamper or fetching their own leash for a walk. By incorporating your dog into your routine, your dog will be kept busy and feeling useful.

8. Give Your Dog Control.

That’s right – control. Would you want to have zero control over your own life? Of course not. Neither does your dog. So give your dog some level of control. Give your dog choices occasionally – which way should we walk today? Do you want to play with the tug toy or the ball? Would you like some pats?

Perhaps most importantly – let your dog choose to not get a treat. I know that sounds strange but I see it all the time – owners badgering the dog to sit for a treat they’re clearly not that interested in, because if they were, they’d be sitting already… If you give your dog an opportunity to sit for a treat, and the dog doesn’t take it, shrug and put the treat away.

Treats should be hard to earn, not earned under duress.

Trust me, nothing puts panic into a dog’s eyes like a treat returned to the treat pouch. Your dog will drop their butt faster next time, because they realize it is a choice, and that makes them feel less resentful and more motivated.

9. Thank Your Dog.

Who wants to feel unappreciated? Not me. Not your dog. When your dog does something difficult, like walking past another dog without flipping out, or staying off the counter while you’re preparing dinner, tell your dog how much you appreciate their hard work! Don’t take good behavior for granted. Thank your dog for trying so hard to be good – even if sometimes they fall short of the goal.

10. Love Unconditionally.

Treats and special toys must be earned. Love and affection should not. A dog with a secure bond to their handler will work harder and do better than a dog who thinks their owner’s love and affection hinges on their ability to hold a down stay. If your dog is struggling to understand something, take a break and love them for a while, then try again.

After all, they love you unconditionally. It’s important to remind them that, even if some days you feel like you don’t like them, you will always love them.

No matter what.

Your Child Doesn’t Need An Autism Dog (Probably)

Posted on May 14, 2021May 14, 2021Categories Assistance Dog Skills, Common Mistakes Owners Make, Kids and Pets, Please ShareTags , , ,

Why have a Child With AUTISM

When you could have a

Child With An AUTISM DOG?

According to People On The Internet, who, as you know, are never wrong*, if your child is autistic, a magic dog can fix them.

*Sarcasm. People on the Internet can be wrong. 

Autism Dogs can be great. After a dozen years of training assistance dogs for other people, I’m finally training my own Autism Dog.

But you probably don’t need one.

Some parents put a lot of weight on getting an autism dog for their child. It seems to be the newest accessory.

When I ask them what they want the dog to do for the child, they often aren’t sure. They just heard that autism dogs can help, and sometimes they’re truly desperate for help.

So it’s really important to understand – a dog can’t fix autism.

A dog can’t rewire our brains.

A dog can’t make your apraxic child capable of speech.

A dog can’t make the world quieter, the lights in the grocery store dimmer, or help us when we panic at Subway because they forgot one of the sandwiches we ordered and now we have to either go home without a sandwich and go hungry for dinner or speak up.**

**I went home without my sandwich.

They definitely can’t help us when we try to navigate downtown without Siri and accidentally turn the wrong way on a one way street.***

***If any police officers are reading this I'm joking!!! HAAHAHAHAHA.****
****No seriously it was scary but no one got hurt and now I will always always have Siri on. I learned my lesson. I'm too autistic for downtown*****. 
 *****As per the preferences of the majority of autistic people polled, including myself, a genuine Autistic Person, I don't usually refer to autism as if it is an awkward accessory - I call myself autistic.  

An Autism Dog is not a substitute for an AAC device, an Occupational Therapist, or acceptance in the community.

So What CAN an Autism Dog Do?

Well… some things…

Safety Sense

Dogs can be trained to stop automatically at curbs, preventing the child from wandering or bolting into the road.

Behavior Interruption

Dogs can be taught to interrupt self-harmful behaviors like skin picking or head banging.

Social Support

Dogs make for great conversation greasers. As an autistic person, I can vouch for how easy social interactions are when you have a dog. People always ask the same questions, and I’ve got the scripts for the answers down pat. Then people start talking to me about their dog and I just nod and smile and coo over pictures. It’s easy!

Sensory Support

Is there anything more soothing than the feeling of soft ears between my fingers? And a firm handle to hold is so steadying when I’m feeling lost and overwhelmed. A tug of a guiding dog with a handle can even help me overcome autistic inertia.

Unconditional Love

When you’re autistic, people tend to look at you strangely.

A lot.

Because we process the world differently, we experience the world differently which means that quite frankly we inhabit a slightly different reality from the people around us. That can get lonely. But do you know who doesn’t care whether I made a faux pas at a party?

Dogs. They love me anyway.

I guess those benefits sound pretty great to parents, because we field a lot of emails from people looking to make their autistic child into a Child-With-Autism-Dog. They just adopted a puppy, or are planning to buy a puppy, and they want the pup to become their child’s loyal Autism Dog.

Sometimes, working with an autistic kid and their dog is the highlight of my day. I love my clients, and they love their dogs.

Just the other day I got a text from a client.

It said:

“[My child] refused to go to a dentist appointment and I didn’t think I was ever going to get them in the car, but then I suggested the dog come with us and he changed his mind and agreed to come. They both rocked it!”

(paraphrase to protect client privacy)

That’s the beauty of an Autism Dog. Sometimes that furry companionship is exactly what an autistic child needs to help them face the challenging of daily life.

Sometimes a handle to hold can mean the difference between getting a child from the car and to the school calmly safely… versus yet another eloping incident involving a bolting five year old and a busy road.

Some of the most impressive and skilled dog handlers on my client list are autistic teenagers who train their dogs themselves.

When people come to me looking for help training an Autism Dog, I can be delighted and honoured to help them on this journey.

But more often… I tell them it’s not a great idea.

That’s right. I, an autistic person who gains immense comfort and support from dogs, don’t think most people should get an autism dog for their child.

As great and useful as an Autism Dog can be, most families should not be getting one for their autistic child.

Autism Dogs Can Be A Terrible Idea.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Reason 1:

The child doesn’t even like dogs.

If you’re an autistic kid and dogs are your special interest, then a dog is the best present your parents will ever get you.

But a lot of people believe that all autistic children just naturally tend to bond with dogs, and that’s incorrect. The fact is that the majority of autistic children, from verbal to non verbal, from apraxic to non-apraxic, with or without intellectual disability, do not enjoy dogs.

Dogs are slimy. Dogs are smelly. Dogs love eye contact. Dogs poop and drool and chew and make loud unexpected noises.

Autistic people are cat people more than dog people. Horses tend to be good. Rabbits. Guinea pigs. Doves, maybe. Not hairy, shedding, stinking, drooling, noisy dogs.

Quite frankly I can’t even explain why I like them, because I dislike basically everything I mentioned above. If I didn’t have this sweeping obsession with animals I’d probably hate dogs too.

Photo by Tamas Pap on Unsplash

Reason 2:

The parent wants the dog to accompany the child to school.

Children under the age of 10 or so tend not to have the ability to handle a dog – even a well trained one – on their own. Autistic kids also tend to struggle with reaction time and physical coordination, which are necessary for skilled dog handling.

I learned it, but it took me a long time.

The parent, not the child, usually handles the Autism Dog. So unless your child’s care aid or BI is willing to handle the dog for you when you aren’t around, or your child is old enough and capable enough to manage the dog, the dog cannot accompany your child to school.

Are there exceptions? Of course! Some of my most skilled handlers are autistic teens. But if you have a young child, you should probably forget it.

Photo by Daniël Maas on Unsplash

Reason 3:

Autism and puppies don’t mix.

Most of the people who contact me are getting a puppy and want to train it up themselves. It sounds good on paper but if often doesn’t work well in reality.

Puppies are terrible. They make disgusting messes. They jump up. They have VERY sharp teeth which they like to embed in our sensitive skin. They’re a TON of work. They chew up your favourite toys, mess up your beautfully lined up objects, and then leave a poop in the middle of your bedroom floor.

Oh and they yip and want constant interaction and it’s terrible and your child will probably hate it.

Yes, even if your child loves dogs.

Yes, even if your child desperately wants a dog.

Parents continually underestimate how much chaos a puppy will bring into their child’s carefully ordered life.

You should not leave your autistic child – or even your neurotypical child – unattended with a puppy. I don’t care how sweet and gentle your child is, or how much empathy they show to animals. When a puppy is sinking needle-like teeth into their pinky toe, there is an excellent chance the child will defend themselves by hitting or kicking the puppy. It’s a reflex. They won’t be able to stop themselves.

I have seen this happen in families where the parent was 100% positive that their child would never hurt a dog.

The parent was probably right in thinking their child wouldn’t hurt a DOG. But a PUPPY is another story. Puppies are really, really obnoxious.

Reason 4:

The child can get violent during meltdowns.

Every autistic person melts down at times.

While some of us elope and scream, or collapse on the floor, some of us can hit and throw things. No, we can’t control it. I’m a grown up woman, married, a parent, and running my own business, and I still can’t control myself during a meltdown so you absolutely cannot expect that of a child.

Thankfully I’m a run-screaming-down-the-side-of-the-highway kind of autistic, not a hits-people-or-dogs kind of autistic but that’s just luck of the draw. It all comes down to how your nervous system reacts to a red alert.

If a child sometimes throws things, or hits and punches people they love when they are upset or melting down, they likely cannot have a service dog. The dog could end up getting punched, kicked, hit, or – in one memorable incident – thrown against a wall.

…I’m pretty sure Amelia is still recovering from that training appointment.

No matter how much benefit a dog could bring to your child, we do not have the right to put a dog in harm’s way.

I do have a client whose child can throw a solid punch when they’re worked up, but they are always pulled out of the meltdown by the dog and have never aggressed on the dog.

So can it be okay? Yes. But I find this is very much the exception, NOT the rule, and parents must always remain vigilant and be ready and able to protect the dog from the child if necessary.

We have a duty to provide these animals with safe and loving surroundings. If we cannot guarantee that, then we cannot put the animal in harm’s way.

Reason 5:

The dog is a chore.

A lot of parents want their child to have a dog because they want the child to get outdoors and get active more.

It won’t work.

Most autistic kids are struggling with meeting basic daily challenges like getting dressed, going to school, and maybe putting their laundry away. Adding a dependant living thing to their to-do list is usually too much for the kid.

Even when the child adores the dog, they usually won’t put their video games down to go for long walks on the beach with their beloved companion. They’re more likely to complain that the dog gets in the way of the X-box controller.

Now, I’m not saying your child can’t be responsible for the dog. I have clients whose kids love to walk the dog. I know kids who even pick up the dogs’ poop.

So I’m not telling you what your child can and can’t do.

But I do want you to seriously consider these things because I frequently find that the parent’s expectations of the child are disappointed. In fact sometimes I see the child turned off of the dog because it represents more work and more things for parents to nag about.

Reasons 6-10,000:

When People See You, They See Dollar Signs.

Whether you hire someone like us, or get a pre-trained dog, expect to spend a lot of money, and watch out for people who want to prey off of you.

There are a lot of vultures out there looking to get money from parents who are trying to help their child. Selling you an “Autism Dog” is a popular scam.

Note: I’m not referring to accredited charities such as BC Guide Dogs. Look for accreditation through Assistance Dog International when searching for a trustworthy organization.

Unfortunately, since ADI accredited charities contend with massive wait-lists, and since they screen their applicants carefully, many families either don’t qualify (likely for good reason – see above). Others qualify but do not want to wait years for their dog.

This opens you up to predatory Autism Dog programs who will often charge thousands for poorly trained and sometimes even aggressive dogs. These are the same people who push Autism Dogs so hard in the first place.

Yes, this happens.

Quite often actually.

Yes, in Canada too.

Yes, here in Vancouver.

Want to know how to spot a service dog scam? Here are some signs.

So please, before you fork out thousands of dollars to breeders/service dog scams or to private service dog trainers (including us!) ask yourself if your child will really benefit.

And if you don’t… we will, because we don’t believe in charging people money in order to waste their time.

Ask The Trainer: When To Intervene At The Dog Park?

Posted on August 18, 2015Categories Ask The Trainer, DogsTags , ,

Dogs-friendly-wrestling

“My dog likes to bark at other dogs at the dog park. Is that okay? He isn’t being aggressive he’s just excited but other people sometimes give me dirty looks. Also, when he’s wrestling with other dogs, when should I break it up?”

Ah, the dog park. If we went into all of the rules of  dog park etiquette, this could be a very long article, so I’ll just stick to your two questions!

First of all, many dogs bark in excitement at the dog park. There isn’t a whole lot that you can do about this. If you take your dog often enough he may find it less exciting and be better able to restrain himself. Dogs who hardly ever get to go are going to be MUCH more excited than dogs for whom this is just every day routine.

But then there are the dogs who bark in other dogs’ faces until the other dog gets angry and retaliates. These dogs are being the equivalent of internet trolls. They are trying to annoy other dogs, trying to provoke a reaction. If your dog is pestering other dogs, then you should definitely put a stop to this behavior. Stop your dog when you see him doing it, make him do some obedience before he is allowed another chance, and best of all, reward him with treats when he plays in a more appropriate manner. If the problem is severe, consider asking a friend to let you have some play dates so you can work on the behaviour in a more controlled environment, and/or call a trainer.

As for when to intervene when things get rough… well…there’s the ideal answer and the real world answer.

Ideally, dogs should be allowed to play rough as long as they are both having fun. Some dogs just love to wrestle, and chew on others, and be chewed on. They growl and flip each other over and slobber all over each other’s backs and play bitey-face with their fangs and have a GREAT TIME. There is absolutely no reason to step in unless one of the dogs stops having fun.

Even when it turns into a real dog fight, there is usually no need to intervene because it is over very quickly. A yelp, a snarl, and they break apart. Don’t assume that the attacking dog is the cause of the trouble, either. Usually these quick altercations happen because one dog did something annoying or inappropriate, failed to read the other dog’s signals, and the other dog finally snapped.

These lessons can actually be a good thing. Young dogs tend to be very inappropriate – jumping on dogs they haven’t even sniffed hello, pestering dogs who are giving out clear “I don’t want to play” signals. That’s normal, and older grumpy dogs actually perform a valuable service by telling an annoying whipper snapper what is what every now and then.

Of course, any time there’s an altercation, both dogs should be given a time out and a chance to cool down. But that’s about all you normally need to do.

It’s only when a dog starts screaming and KEEPS SCREAMING that it is time to come running. Even then, intervene with caution. Reaching your hand into a dog fight is a great way to get bitten, and then you have even more trouble, especially if you live in a province like Ontario where they place any dogs who bite under quarantine for rabies.

It is bad for a dog to get hurt at the park, but legally, it causes far more problems when a human gets hurt. A dog who bites another dog might get cautioned. A dog who bites a human might be ordered destroyed.

Most dog fights end with little more damage than a torn ear or cut on the cheek or neck, although in rare cases they can cause severe injury or death, especially when there is a big size difference between dogs. I have seen a couple of tragic cases of small fluffy puppies being mistaken for squirrels or rabbits by bigger dogs.

So, in an ideal world you hardly ever intervene unless someone is actually getting killed.

But we live in the real world, don’t we? And the real world dog park is full of owners who will panic if they hear your dog play growling during a friendly wrestle session with their precious Fluffers. The real world is full of people with puppies who yell at you when your elderly dog teachers their rambunctious puppy a well deserved lesson. And in the real world, we aren’t exactly happy about the idea of letting our dog get his ear ripped. If nothing else, that’s still a $500 vet visit.

So exercise your best judgement. If your dog is playing rough, but no one is screaming and the tails are wagging, watch the owner of the other dog. If they seem happy, then just enjoy. If they look worried or concerned, then step in and redirect your dog somewhere else.

If your dog snaps at another dog, even if the other dog deserves it, give him a time out and if the other owner is upset, a sincere apology. Always offer to pay for any damage that your dog does to another dog, even if the other dog deserved it, because we socialized dogs shouldn’t hurt other dogs when they fight, so you are ultimately responsible.

And if someone else’s dog snaps at your dog, even if you don’t think your dog deserved it, cut the other owner some slack. If your dog did diserve it, cut the other owner a lot of slack.

We all love our dogs and none of us want anyone else’s pet to get hurt. We just want them to have fun. But sometimes their best teachers are other dogs.

Ask The Trainer: “My Sister In Law Hates My Dog!”

Posted on August 11, 2015Categories Ask The Trainer, DogsTags , , , , ,

“My sister-in-law hates dogs. I could shut my dog in the basement whenever she comes over, but I don’t really want to. What is the etiquette here?”

dachschund

“Anonymous” writes,

“My sister-in-law hates dogs. I could shut my dog in the basement whenever she comes over, but I don’t really want to. What is the etiquette here?”

It’s always difficult when a guest doesn’t love animals the way that you do. We want our guests to feel welcome and comfortable in our homes, but on the other hand, we shouldn’t have to shut members of our family away just to make our guests more comfortable.

After all, if your sister-in-law hated children and you had kids, would you shut them away? So it is okay to resent being asked to do the same with your beloved pet.

Some people simply aren’t able to shut their dog in a room when guests come over – Dogs with separation problems may bark disruptively or cause damage in the room. Even well adjusted dogs may simply assume that you’ve made a mistake by locking them in the bedroom and will yap to let you know that they want out.

On the other hand, refusing to lock your dog away could be seen as inconsiderate, which would cause family drama, and no one wants to deal with that, either. Furthermore, you don’t want your sister in law to feel like you are choosing a dog over her – which would seem insulting to someone who doesn’t understand the important role that dogs can play in our lives.

In general, I have a “love me, love my dog” policy.

However, I would be willing to bend that policy on occasion in the following situations:

  • If there is an allergy involved.
    • (…And if there is, then honestly locking the dog up isn’t going to make much difference – there’s dander all over your house.)
  • If my policy is going to cause family distress
    • (If your sister in law is your husband’s sister for example, does he support you or does he want his sister accommodated?)
  • If my dog is not well behaved.

This last point is also the most vital – it is reasonable to ask non-allergic guests to tolerate a polite, well behaved dog. It is not reasonable to ask any guest to tolerate a jumpy, barking, drooly, mooching dog with no sense of personal boundaries.

So, with that in mind, here is the most vital obedience command to teach your dog:

On Your Spot/Place

Kerry-Blue-Terrier

Choose an out-of-the-way location with clear boundaries, such as under the coffee table, or on a mat or dog bed. Teach your dog to lie down in that place on command, and then continue to chuck treats at periodic intervals as a reward for staying there. Start with asking your dog to stay there for a minute or two at a time, and slowly work your way up to longer periods of time.

Meal times are a great time to practice this. It teaches the dog to stop sniffing around your feet, which no one likes, and works the training into your daily routine.

Then try doing it when dog-friendly guests are over. Tell them that they can pat your dog AFTER he has done his time on his spot.

Soon you will be able to order your dog onto his spot when your sister in law comes over, and keep him there, with the occasional “thank you” from you in the form of a high value treat.

That way your dog gets to stay in the room, gets a few treats, and doesn’t pester your sister in law. Win/win!

New Ways To Get The Help You Need!

Posted on August 6, 2015Categories Dogs

We’re rolling out some exciting changes. We hope you’ll like them as much as we do, because we are pretty stoked. What do you think?

Booking Online

Now you can schedule an appointment right from your phone or computer with our new online scheduler. Book a free consult, buy a training package, and set up your session date and time in a matter of seconds!

scheduler screenshot

Phone Consults

If you’re on a budget, live outside our service area, or just feel like you need some quick personal advice, we are now offering distance consults over the phone or through facetime. You can book these through our online scheduler as well.

If you’re an existing client, don’t worry! We still include free over-the-phone advice in all of our in-person service prices.

“Ask The Trainer”

We get some pretty great questions via email, and we’d love to be able to share our answers with a wider audience. If you’re looking for some free advice, consider submitting a question using our contact form and mention that you’re okay with being featured in our “Ask The Trainer” feature.

So… are you excited too?