How To Spot Assistance Dog Scams

Posted on May 14, 2021May 14, 2021Categories Assistance Dog Skills, Featured, Please ShareTags , , ,

Everyone knows about fake service dogs – dogs who have a vest that says “service dog” but pull on the leash, bark, and generally act like your average pet.

But what people don’t know is how often the person holding the leash is the victim of a scam, and they don’t even know that their service dog is not legitimate.

Sometimes people contact us after they realize they’ve been scammed, and they are looking for help.

Sometimes we have to gently break it to people when we realize they have been scammed.

It’s never fun.

It makes me angry that there are people willing to prey on disabled people who are looking for help. I hope this article helps save a few people from these common scams.

Scam #1: Fake Service Dog Registration.

If I google “service dog registration canada” I come up with a long list of scam sites. They urge you to pay them money now to “register” your dog in return for fake IDs, fake letters from fake doctors etc. But of course they don’t say that it’s all fake. They make themselves look as legitimate as possible.

My personal favourite is the one which clearly displays its address in the USA while urging me to choose them because they’re based in Canada.

hope you don't fall for this!

So, how do you spot these sites?

It’s easy.

If it isn’t a government website, then they have no right to make any kind of declaration about whether or not your dog is registered or certified in your area.

If no one has asked you for a doctor’s note and checked to see if your dog behaves itself, then they have absolutely no authority whatsoever.

If they’re asking you for money, be suspicious.

It is important to understand that random organizations on the internet have no authority over whether your dog is a real service dog.

While service dog laws vary from province to province, here is a summary of the laws here in British Columbia:

Scam #2: Selling You A Fake Service Dog

leash manners are just the beginning...

Even worse than bilking people out of a couple of hundred dollars for a false service dog ID is selling a false service dog. A fully trained service dog can sell for anywhere from $5,000-$15,000. Are they worth that? Absolutely.

…IF they are actually well trained.

Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there who will put a head halter on any dog and sell it to you as a service dog.

42 people have filed fraud complaints against one “trainer” in North Carolina.

Another outfit has been sued for selling poorly trained dogs for as high as $30k.

These high profile cases are merely the tip of the iceberg. Fake service dog scams can be found all over the world, including here in Canada.

Hope you know assistance dogs shouldn't do this!

Here’s how you spot a service dog scammer:

They are not on any lists posted by reliable institutions. Self-Regulating organizations such as Assistance Dogs International will list approved members.

Their dogs pull on the leash or require frequent corrections.

A trained service dog should walk next to their handler calmly and on a loose leash. That means the leash should be hanging down in a J or U shape and the handler does not seem to need the leash in order to direct the dog. In fact, the handler should be able to drop the leash and keep walking, and the dog acts just the same.

Their dogs need special equipment.

A well trained service dog behaves the same off leash as on leash. A trained service dog should not require a prong collar, a shock collar, or any other form of extreme control. Some service dogs may wear head halters, because their handler is in a wheelchair or is frail and even an accidental tug on the leash could result in injury. But most fully qualified service dogs only require a simple harness or flat collar.

The dogs do not perform specialized skills.

Service dog scammers don’t know how to train dogs, only control them. You can use scolding and punishment to stop a dog from yanking on the leash, but it takes a lot more skill to train a dog to fetch medications, find a lost possession, or carry their own poop bag and put it in the garbage. Your service dog should be able to perform several advanced skills designed to assist you in daily life.

A dog who can just heel nicely and sit-stay is a well behaved pet, not a service dog. Check the organizations social media channels – skilled trainers delight in showing off what their dogs can do and they’ll have the social media posts to back it up!

They have the dogs’ names on their service dog capes.

There’s a reason that big service dog organizations don’t embroider the dogs’ names on their capes, and it has nothing to do with cost. It would be easy to find a nice volunteer to embroider a special cape for each graduate. No, the reason they don’t do it is because they know that you don’t want the public to know your dogs’ names. Some of my clients even have “stage names” for their dogs that they’ll give the public when someone asks for their dogs’ names. It’s extremely annoying to have people calling your dog from across the room when you’re trying to keep him under your chair in McDonald’s.

So I raise my eyebrows at any organization that does this, because to me it practically screams “lack of experience”.

Their trainers don’t have any certifications.

Experience is not a substitute for education. I have learned immense amounts from my dozen plus years of hands-on experience training dogs, but just as vital has been active pursuit of education on the subject of dog training. A dedicated dog trainer invests in their career, and will be able to list courses or apprenticeships they have taken and certifications they have achieved, and will be happy to refer you to the schools that trained them.

Once again, check their claims at the back end. If they say they are CPDT-KAs, for example, you will find them on the CCPDT website.

They don’t have a good relationship with similar organizations nearby

There’s not much competition in the service dog charity world. The demand far outstrips production, which exactly why these service dog scammers are able to do so well. Service dog schools swap training methods, breeding dogs, and anything else they think will help each other succeed. If the organization you are looking into doesn’t seem to have good affiliations with similar organizations, nearby or abroad, it’s worth calling those other schools to find out why.

They don’t screen applicants carefully.

A true service dog organization wants its dogs to go to good homes and worthy recipients. They will want reports from your doctors, they will check your finances to ensure you can provide food and vet care to the dog, they’ll ask for references, and they may even run a criminal record check on you to make sure you aren’t an animal abuser.

They’ll ask you about your schedule, your pasttimes, your home life, and your recreational activities so they can match the right dog to the right person – they don’t want to pair a slug-dog to someone who does marathons, or hand a canine athlete to someone who rarely leaves the house. Since demand is so high, service dog schools can be very picky about matchmaking to ensure that the paired teams are ideal.

They don’t treat their clients well.

Service dog organizations exist to help people, and they are run by people who love people. They should be educated on the nature of your disability, they should not express ableist beliefs, they should demonstrate genuine care and consideration for their clients and their needs, and they should be willing and able to accommodate your disability.

They don’t behave professionally.

Professionals behave like professionals and care how they and their dogs are perceived by the public. They require their clients to behave professionally as well and will coach them in how to handle difficult situations (such as being questioned about their service dog) with grace. They will coach their clients on ways to be discrete with their dog in public and to ensure their dog is not a nuisance to others. They will respect their clients’ privacy and human rights.

It should go without saying that they will not try to take advantage of their clients, or offer you discounts if you recruit more clients for them as if they were Mary Kay.

Their fee for the dog is non-refundable.

Most of the big charities do not charge their clients for the dogs, but instead choose to retain ownership and “loan” the dog out to the client. But some do permit the transfer of ownership for a fair price. Usually the client is expected to fundraise for the dog, rather than pay out of pocket. None of these things are, by themselves, suspicious.

However, if papers you are signing commit you to paying a non-refundable fee, with or without ownership of the dog, please ask more questions. What if the dog isn’t a good fit for you? What if you realize you don’t actually like having a service dog? You should always be able to return the dog without ending up out-of-pocket if things aren’t a good fit.

Some scams will sell a dog to someone, or charge application fees in the thousands, only to give out an aggressive, untrained or otherwise unsuitable dog. When the dog is ultimately returned, they refuse to return the money – usually while deflecting responsibility onto the recipient – then turn around and sell the dog to someone else.

Don’t let this happen to you. Read the fine print on any contracts you sign, and make sure it includes guarantees regarding the dog’s behavior, and allows for refunds if the dog is aggressive or unsuitable.

Buyer Beware

The dog training industry is completely unregulated by the government. While voluntary certifications exist – such as the BC AnimalKind program, and the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers – the government has no legal definition of what constitutes a “dog trainer”, and anyone can go to PetSmart, buy themselves a shock collar, and set up a business training dogs.

We are plagued enough by people who think that punishing a dog into submission is “training” and sell it as such to innocent people and their dogs. It’s ten times worse, though, when a family with a disabled child is faced with the grief of a badly behaved dog who cost them hundreds or even thousands.

When it comes to predatory website scams, our justice system is helpless, as these websites are usually based out of the U.S. and therefore not answerable to British Columbia laws.

Please check things out carefully. Be very wary of buying things online, or getting information about service dog laws online. I’ve lost count of the number of clients who think the American Disability Act rules apply here in Canada.

Be safe out there.

How NOT to Pick A Dog Breed.

Posted on November 6, 2019September 19, 2020Categories Common Mistakes Owners Make, Dogs, Featured, Kids and Pets, Please Share, What Would a Trainer Do?

Here are some biggest factors that people consider when picking their next dog… and why they shouldn’t.

Picking your next family member is an important decision. We find that most families put serious thought into the type of dog they get.

But even in cases where the family thought carefully before picking their dog, we trainers find ourselves often wishing that our clients had picked a different breed.


Well, here are some biggest factors that people consider when picking their next dog… and why they shouldn’t.


“I don’t have time to exercise a big dog” or “I want a dog that can go on hikes with me” are common responses when we ask why a client chose the breed they did.

Unfortunately, people assume that big dogs need more exercise, when size has very little to do with exercise requirements. A Newfoundland needs far less exercise than a Jack Russell Terrier, for example.

Size also doesn’t affect how much space the dog needs. A giant hearthrug is sometimes more suitable to a small apartment than a small ball of unbridled energy. A greyhound needs a couch. A terrier needs a farm.

What size does affect is the cost to care for the dog – big dogs eat a lot, and when they get sick they need much bigger doses of medication.

So by all means consider size, but only for very concrete reasons such as strata bylaws, upkeep cost, and physical work required (a yorkshire terrier should not be considered as a wheelchair pulling dog, for example).

Fur coat/shedding:

Many dogs are picked because they shed less. Totally valid. Shedding fur is a pain in the butt. But don’t make the mistake of assuming that short haired dogs shed less than long haired dogs.

Anyone who has owned a lab or a pug will tell you that they shed TONS of fur, far more than a golden retriever does.

Sometimes people think dogs who don’t shed are hypoallergenic. This is not, in fact, the case.

My own husband, for example, is very allergic to Poodles. They make him sneeze like crazy. We bought a Bernese Mountain Dog partially because those big, hairy, shedding Alpine draft dogs do not aggravate his allergies.

One client of ours bought a pug because they are the only breed that doesn’t make her break out in hives, even though they shed nasty amounts of hair.

Studies have showed that nonshedding dogs drop just as much dander (skin cells) as shedding dogs, and it is in fact often the dog’s saliva which people are allergic to.

That being said, different types of dogs seem to have different types of dander, so many people are allergic to labs but not to wheaten terriers, for example. But rather than assuming that nonshedding = hypoallergenic, test your allergies on the breed of dog you are considering first.

Finally, remember that if you are buying a mixed breed, such as a golden doodle, that a wide variety of hair coats come out of mixing two breeds together. Some have poodle hair. Some have silky hair and shed less but still some. Some have terrier-type hair and shed all over the place.

Mix breed dogs are often healthy due to hybrid vigour (non-inbreeding) but their temperments and hair coat are less predictable so take that into consideration.


“I heard they were really smart” is a popular reason for getting a particular breed. But do you really want a smart dog?

Smart dogs take a lot of work.

It is harder to train a highly intelligent dog. They question your every decision. They look for loopholes in every rule. They test boundaries just for the fun of it.

If you want a dog who will figure out how to unlatch their crate and get into the garbage while you are out of the house, then get a smart dog.

If you want a dog who will happily snooze the day away and obey you happily and willingly for the love of all things holy do NOT get a highly intelligent breed.

But is that really what you want?

While dog trainers appreciate the lightning speed and the obsessive workaholism of a Border Collie or Belgian Malinois, your average family does not want or need that kind of intelligence.

Dog trainers constantly joke about it, making memes like this:

Most people don’t actually want smart dogs. They pick a dog breed for intelligence and then hire us to fix that intelligence.

They really want willing dogs.

Intelligence usually only refers to how quickly someone learns, or how easily they can solve a problem.

Slow and steady often wins that race.

My Bernese Mountain Dog doesn’t pick up on stuff with the laser-beam focus that my sheltie Odin did. But she’s willing and she gets there and she is a much, MUCH easier dog to live with than Odin was when he was her age.

Odin was smart but he was a holy terror of a puppy.

Trainer Amelia’s Boxer, Doug, was dumb as rocks.

He was also the sweetest, happiest, friendliest, most loving dog you could ever hope to meet.

Doug was a great dog.

Doug was a Trick Dog Champion who would fetch you a Kleenex when you sneezed, and then go put it in the garbage for you. He could dunk a basketball into a basketball net, roll himself up in a blanket, and throw away his own poop bags.

You don’t need a smart dog to get a good dog.


Roscoe watches over Baby Jane in Hope, BC

“I heard they are really loyal and loving” is what people often say about their breed of choice.

Guess what? All dog breeds are loyal and loving. They are dogs. We have selectively bred them to be our helpers and companions for millions of generations.

The selfish, unloving, vicious jerks didn’t make the cut.

Every single breed in the Kennel Club database will be described as affectionate/friendly/loving/gentle/loyal.

Every single one.

Any dog with a solid stable temperament will love you and work to please you. Dogs are just like that.

Temperament is the least predictable aspect of a dog breed. Within any breed you can get fearful dogs, outgoing dogs, anxious dogs, and bomb-proof dogs.

Temperament testing is largely useless, too.

Service dog schools have poured a lot of money into trying to predict a puppy’s adult temperaments, but it has been found again and again to be pretty futile. We change so much as we grow and learn that you simply can’t predict the future from a brief snapshot of a puppy’s behaviour.

Someone who lives with the puppy can tell you if they are brave or shy, clingy or independent, but that’s about it.

The physical characteristics of a breed are much more predictable than the personality of the dog in question. They’re all unique individuals, after all.

So What’s The Best Way To Pick A Dog?

While all of the above considerations are things to think about, there is one very important step that many families skip.

Know What Your Dog Was Bred To Do

Dog breeds were bred for a purpose.

While nowadays breed choices hinge largely on things like size or coat type, it used to be that dogs worked for a living, and the dogs who did the best at their jobs were bred and used to parent future generations.

The standard “look” of the breed you love was usually fostered after the fact by fans of the breed who began selecting for appearance. But originally the dogs were bred because they loved to do the job and they were good at it.

That means that your Labrador Retriever comes from generations upon generations of dogs that loved to carry things in their mouths.

Your Border Collie comes from generations of dogs who love to run after sheep and make them go where they are supposed to go.

Your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel comes from ancestors who made particularly excellent companions.

Know what your dog was bred to do, because there is an excellent chance that your dog is going to want to do that thing.

Do not get a terrier if you want a dog that will lie still and sleep all day. Terriers are bred to hunt for mice and rats, and will spend much of the day patrolling. They won’t want to eat out of a bowl – they’ll want to earn their meals.

Do not get a Newfoundland if you want a hiking companion. They were bred to sit on a boat all day and occasionally help haul a fishnet onto deck. Short bursts of energy are the best you can expect.

Do not get a Beagle if you want a dog who hangs on your every word. Hounds are bred to go out and sniff out prey all on their own. They think for themselves and don’t appreciate being given orders. That nose will be on the ground and they will track that rabbit no matter how many times you call.

Do not get a Cavalier King Charles if you want a hearing-ear dog to alert you to fire alarms and ringing phones. That dog is not going to get out of a warm and comfy bed to let you know that your boss is calling you.

Are there retrievers out there who don’t pick up everything in their mouths? Yes.

Are there terriers who sleep all day, rather than barking at passers-by from the picture window? Yes.

Are there hyper-intelligent pugs who need to be kept mentally stimulated to prevent them from thoroughly outwitting their owners?

It’s… hypothetically possible, okay?

My point is that yes, weirdos exist in every breed, and temperaments within breeds can vary widely. However, it is a very safe bet to assume that your dog will really enjoy doing what it has been bred to do.

You can start by looking at its AKC Group.

The American Kennel Club groups dog breeds by purpose.

Sporting Group:

We owned one Labrador (Dawn of Kezar) who, after being broken as a retriever, was taught in a few weeks to take hand signals and quarter her ground back and forth ahead of the gun. No one watching her valuable work would pretend that she crashed the weed thickets with the speed and dash of a Springer. . . . But this Lab loved to quest for game. To the ‘hunt ’em up’ command and a wave of the hand she would bang into the brush and tall weeds to find pheasants for us, always staying within easy gun range. Most upland bird hunting is, of course, done with the pointing and sporting spaniel breeds, and in these dogs ability to retrieve is especially important from the standpoint of reducing crippling losses of upland game.” – Bird Dogs in Sport and Conservation 1948

These are dogs bred for finding or fetching game. Spaniels, Retrievers, Pointers and Setters all fall into this category.

Because these breeds were meant to follow the hunter’s instructions and then return, they tend to be obedient and eager to please. Because they had to be brave enough to put up with loud gun shots, they tend to socialize easily. And because they did not need to guard anything, they tend to be friendly and easy-going.

There is a reason that service dog schools use retrievers – they are emotionally tough, can handle a kennel environment, and they can handle accompanying to the new summer blockbuster action flick. They also love to work.

They also all love to chase birds and need a moderate to high amount of exercise.

As long as you can meet those exercise requirements and give your sporting dog some jobs, they make great family friends.

Hound Group:

A group of villagers were watching the sport, and close to the line a woman was standing ; but Rufus paid no heed to either, and went on hunting every inch of the line until reaching the outside boundary, clearly defined by one of Gibbs white flags. Here he came to his first serious check, being out of view for some minutes in a wood. On coming into sight he ran heel for a distance ; but, encouraged by Collett, he at length regained the line, and rattling down into the valley, where scent was warmer than on the higher ground, he ran into his quarry in exactly one hour and ten minutes—really an excellent performance. – The New Book of the Dog, 1911

Hounds are bred to sniff out, track down, and sometimes kill game.

This group, which includes Beagles, Fox Hounds, and Basenjis, tend to be independent thinkers and problem solvers who don’t spend much time taking orders from their handler.

The best hounds were the ones who never gave up and didn’t come running back to the boss for help the moment the trail went cold.

Anyone who has ever read Where the Red Fern Grows knows how stubborness – doggedness, you could call it – was valued in hound-type dogs.

Expect it.

If you want an independent family dog who isn’t too clingy, consider a dog from the hound group. Many of them have high energy requirements, but beagles are medium energy while Bassets are practically ottomans.

Working Group:

THEY OFTEN DRAG CONSIDERABLE LOADS.’ so far from resenting their duties they positively enjoy their work. It is said, indeed, that there is only one day in the week on which a Belgian draught dog is unhappy, and that is Sunday, when he remains at home inactive. – The New Book of the Dog, 1911

The working group is the group with the most dog breeds that should have big red flags on them saying “Not For Beginners”.

Ranging widely from herding dogs to guard dogs, any breed in the Working Group was bred for a very specific task and you should keep that task in mind before you buy.

Most dogs from the working group want to do their job and if you don’t give them a job then may Dog have mercy on your soul.

That being said, there are some truly wonderful companions in this group and most dog trainers choose Working Group dogs. I have never owned a dog that didn’t fall into this category.

Because of the variety of tasks a working dog could perform, this is the group where it is most important that you read the fine print on the history of the breed.

The Doberman is a wonderful example.

Dobermann was a tax man who wanted a dog to accompany him on his rounds and protect him (tax collectors are strangely unpopular). He combined the guarding tendencies of a Rottweiler with the rabid workaholism of herding breed dogs and ended up with a dog very similar to what we now call the Doberman Pinscher.

The result is a dog with the fierce intelligence of a herding breed dog with the possessiveness of a guard dog. Which, depending on what you want in a dog, is either awesome or a big fat YIKES.

That being said, don’t rule out a breed just because it belongs to this group. Many of the drafting breeds make calm, loving, and hard working family members. Just know what the dog is bred to do, and think about how that might affect your dog’s personality.

Terrier Group:

He may be very usefully employed by those who follow rabbit shooting in cover, for his perseverance is indomitable ; and, when of the rough or wiry-haired species, thorns and bram-bles have no account with him. The family of the terrier is the most domestic of all the canine race, and one that has lately made, and is still making, great progress in the higher branches of science known to its genus. The species called bull-terrier is capable of training to almost any purpose for which the dog is required. – The New Book of the Dog, 1911

Terriers are mostly vermin-hunters – bred to keep rats out of barns, kill foxes, or dig badgers out of their sets. Some did it competitively, with people betting how many rats a dog could kill.

Because of this, terrier tend to be feisty, independent, and quick-witted. They learn fast, think for themselves, and love a good challenge.

Some terriers were bred for dog fighting – mixed with bulldogs and thrown into the arena for bloodsport. If your dog comes from one of these lines, be aware that extensive dog socialization is a must.

Terriers have a ton of personality and are a lot of fun. They love to do pretty much every task there is… except stay home and sleep.

Toy Group:

“We find that these little dogges are good to assuage the sickness of the stomacke, being therunto oftentimes applyed as a plaster preservative or borne in the bosom of the weake or diseased person, which effect is performed by theyr moderate heate. – Dr Caius, quoted in The American Book of the Dog 1891

Toy breeds often are miniaturized versions of breeds from other categories. It delighted wealthy ladies to have a pet which looked like a doll-like version of popular working dogs. Thus the Cavalier is a miniature spaniel, the Pug a miniature mastiff, and the pomeranian a miniature spitz.

Toys were used as the playthings of the rich and indolent and as living hot water bottles for the sick and the poor.

Because they were bred specifically for size or unusual appearance (such as hairlessness) they are more prone to health problems than sporting and working breeds. However, with proper care most Toy breeds have very long life expectancies, often 16-17 years of age.

Most Toy breeds maintain the personality of the breeds that they originally came from, but tend to have more clingy natures and don’t do well alone. Many of them tend to be one-man dogs and can be standoffish with strangers.

Most don’t stand up to rough handling and many are not good with children – Pugs and Cavaliers being notable exceptions. Pugs can be positively rough-and-tumble and make excellent family dogs.

Toys are not for everyone, and they are certainly not the animated stuffed animals they are sometimes mistaken for. Please research carefully about the breed’s health and temperament before you get one.

Non-Sporting Group:

This is the biggest catch-all of the breed groups. The breeds in this group are usually here because they were (at least in recent history) bred for looks more than for one particular job.

This is where you find many of the most distinctive breeds such as Dalmations, Poodles, and Bulldogs.

If you’re considering a dog in the Non-Sporting category, read the history carefully. Some, like the poodle, are so wonderfully versatile that they make excellent dogs for all types of owners. Others, like the Chow Chow, are only suitable for very specific types of homes.

Many Non-Sporting breeds come with severe health problems – a side effect of being bred primarily for appearance. Bulldogs have chronic skin problems and sometimes need surgery to be able to breathe comfortably. Dalmations are prone to bladder stones. Poodles – especially the smaller poodles – are notorious for their terrible teeth.

The Takeaway:

No matter how cute you think a particular breed or breed mix is, or no matter how much you have heard about the dog’s personality, it is important to know what a dog was bred to do.

If your dog is a mix, consider that your dog could want to do either or all jobs bred into their ancestors.

Because while every dog is their own unique person, if a dog comes from a long line of dogs who liked to do a particular job, you need to ask yourself if you want a dog who loves to do that particular thing.

That doesn’t mean your dog can’t do other jobs.

All dogs, for example, have a tendency to guard the family home, particularly when left up to their own devices. This was the first job dogs ever did for humans and so it is in the genetic makeup of every dog, though some breeds are more territorial than others.

Toys, in particular, often take up guarding because they are frequently treated more like cats than like dogs and lack enrichment and other “jobs” so they default to the original dog job – barking at everything.

Ultimately, all dogs are reasonably intelligent, as domestic animals go, and are capable of learning new things.

So Bernese Mountain Dogs, who are lumbering farm and draft dogs, can learn to do agility. Dachshunds, bred to dig our burrowing animals, can learn to play flyball. Pugs can become Trick Dog Champions.

In fact, experienced trainers often delight in training a dog to go beyond its breed and wow other trainers.

But when you are considering a family member, it’s important to understand that every dog has a purpose, it is up to you to help them fulfill it…

…Not train them out of it.

Preparing For Puppy – A Checklist

Posted on September 6, 2019September 15, 2020Categories Featured, Pet Care, Puppyhood, What Would a Trainer Do?Tags , , ,

You’ll be surprised at what a professional dog trainer buys before puppy comes home.

What does a professional dog trainer buy when preparing for a new puppy? The answer might surprise you.

Shopping for a puppy is always exciting, but what do you really need? Many new dog owners are overwhelmed by the choices and myriad opinions of everyone they meet.

“Your dog needs a crate.”

“Don’t get a crate, it’s cruel. You want a pen.”

“Get a pen and put the crate INSIDE.”

“Get raised dog bowls. It’s better for their spine alignment.”

“Don’t get raised dog bowls! It causes Bloat.”

“You need stuffy toys.”

“Don’t get stuffy toys, it’ll teach the dog to chew children’s toys!”

Everyone has an opinion, don’t they? And everything is so expensive!

Well, I just picked up my new puppy this week. I’m a professional dog trainer with a decade of experience, certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, and I am a veterinary technician who graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Guelph and who worked as Director of Medical Services at a veterinary clinic.

Want to know what I bought?

The Essential Puppy Supply Checklist.

Wide water bowl that isn’t too high and isn’t easy to tip over.

I went with a cheap melamine bowl from Bosley’s.

Plastic mat to put under that water bowl.

Most puppies are sloppy drinkers and some actively paw the water out of their bowls. A mat with a rim will help catch some of that mess. When your puppy is older, a microfiber absorbent mat is your best bet, but a puppy would just eat that up and they aren’t cheap.

A rusted, broken, zap-strapped-together old crate

I got it for free on Facebook Marketplace. This crate is missing all of its bolts. The door is rusted with age. The plastic is chewed and scratched and cracked. It’s perfect.

Crates are completely essential both for your puppy’s safety and your sanity. Dogs don’t like to urinate or defecate where they sleep – even though they love urinating and defecating everywhere else. Plus the crate provides a safe place to put the puppy when you can’t keep an eye on them.

It isn’t cruel to put a puppy in a crate any more than it is cruel to put a baby in a playpen or crib. And it is vital for easy and painless potty training. Since housebreaking issues are one of the major reasons dogs are relinquished to shelters, please just get a crate.

But if you’re getting a large breed dog, like me, you have a problem – if I get a crate big enough to hold a full grown Bernese Mountain Dog, that will give the puppy so much room that she could sleep in one corner and pee in another.

This crate was free, clean, and is nice and snug for my 20 lb Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. When she gets too big for it (probably by next month!) I can size up.

Always check Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for hand-me-down crates. Many people don’t bother with them once their dog is a couple of years old, potty trained, and past the point of chewing up their shoes. Then they list them online and depending on the condition of the crate will price them at $50-80 or even free.

Dollarama leashes, including long-lines.

An off-leash puppy is trouble. The best thing you can do for your stress levels, next to getting a crate, is to keep the puppy on a leash at all times. Leashed puppies can’t pee behind the couch or chew your shoe when you’re busy with the kids. You don’t want your dog to get into the habit of wandering around looking for trouble.

Why the dollar store? Well, puppies chew things. They are adorable bundles of predatory destruction. Don’t get anything expensive until your pup is at least six months old, preferably one or two years old. Expect to go through multiple leashes as they get shredded, urinated on, and dragged through goodness knows what.

A subscription to Bark Box.

No, this is not a product placement.

Bark Box has NOT paid us or offered us any kind of incentive to advertise their monthly subscription boxes. They’re just genuinely THAT good.

Bark Boxes come once a month and each one has its own adorable theme. Matching that theme will be a couple of high-quality toys that crinkle, squeak, and sometimes even have bonus toys hidden inside. I once got a stuffed Viking ship and when my boarders finally destroyed it I found a squeaky Viking ball inside!

Along with the toys are two bags of grain-free treats. Common ingredients include pork, chicken, beef, and fish. Last month they were alligator!

Finally, there are two chewy stick type treats. Sometimes they are dog pepperoni, sometimes a sort of bully stick.

As a dog trainer, I find this constant supply of treats and toys for $22 USD a month to be invaluable. For anyone with an active, destructive puppy, I think a Bark Box subscription – even just for three months during puppyhood – could be a life and wallet saver.

By the way, it also makes a GREAT gift for someone expecting a new puppy. You can even pick and choose the theme of the gift box!

Totally Optional Purchases

A food bowl.

That’s right. Food bowls are optional. Most dogs prefer to earn their food from your hand than to eat it for free from a bowl, especially breeds like Yorkies and Poodles.

I’m a big believer of puppies earning kibble from my hand by sitting, pottying outside, and dropping the socks they pick up. But I still feed them three small meals to keep bowel movements regular and blood sugar levels even.

But why put it in a bowl?

A scoopful of kibble dumped on the floor is just as good from a dog’s point of view.

If your puppy doesn’t eat the meal all at once, then feed less next time.

Feeding raw or homecooked? Then a tupperware container or a flat, washable placemat is probably just as easy as a bowl. Dogs find bowls difficult to eat out of, especially when their food is soft. The food gets squished into the corners and their nose bumps the bowl across the room when they try to lick it out.

By all means, get a food bowl if you want one. Just know that your dog doesn’t care about bowls at all and you can save your money.

A Snuggle Puppy

These nifty little inventions have electronic hearts that go thump-thump-thump. A nice comfort item for a puppy sleeping away from Mom and siblings for the first time. Bonus points if you can leave it with the mother for a few days before the puppy comes home so it smells like Mom too.

Can’t be bothered to order a stuffed dog on Amazon? The old standby of a water bottle and a ticking clock is never a bad idea, and many puppies do just fine with a person sleeping nearby.

A Clicker

I didn’t need to buy one of these because I have them scattered all over my house. Clickers are a dog trainer’s best friend. A clicker is a clear, precise, and distinct way to communicate to a dog that they have earned a treat. Clicking improves communication between me and the dog which means the puppy learns faster and I don’t get as frustrated.

But a simple “yes!” or “BAM!” works just as well as a click.

If you do get a clicker, get a cheap rectangle one. They click louder and last longer than the fancy new-fangled kinds they sell in stores these days.

Front Clip Harness/Seatbelt

If you have a small breed dog, seriously consider a harness with a front clip and webbing in the chest area.

Small breeds are very prone to collapsing trachea and pulling on a collar can wreck their airway. A front-clip harness ensures there is no pressure on your dog’s neck.

Kurgo makes a great harness which also doubles as a seatbelt – very important if you have the size of dog which can climb onto your lap when you are driving or fly through the window as a projectile during a crash.

Large breed dogs also benefit from front clip harnesses especially as they grow, because the front clip gives you some extra leverage against a strong dog.

large dogs should also either be buckled onto a seat or should learn to ride on the floor footwell of the car rather than on a seat.

It can also be expensive to replace harnesses as the dog grows so I’m not bothering until the puppy gets bigger! In the meantime, a crate or the floor of the car are good places for her to ride.

Absolutely Banned

Retractable Leashes

These things teach dogs to pull. Their handles, if dropped, have been known to terrify dogs into bolting away. Dog trainers hate them. Don’t get one.

Puppy Pee Pads

These things are totally useless. Training your puppy to urinate indoors – even if it’s on a special surface – is not a good idea for the long term if your ultimate goal is a housebroken dog. Plus, puppies love ripping up pee pads and eating the not-at-all-safe-to-eat absorbent chemicals inside.

From day 1, take puppy outside and plunk them down on the dirt to pee. Live in a condo? No problem. Get a big litter box and fill it with dirt or sand or even turf from the local plant nursery and put it on your balcony.

Can’t take puppy out regularly? Consider hiring a dog walker to come by while you’re at work, especially if you plan to live a life where you don’t always come home to messes that need to be cleaned up.

If you’re still Determined to let your puppy pee inside, get old towels from Value Village like God intended and wash them regularly.

Anything Expensive

Puppies destroy everything. They chew it, pee on it, vomit it up, eat it again, then poop it out.

Do not buy anything you are not willing to clean diarrhea off of or throw away until your dog has hit emotional maturity.

Ready, Set, Go!

So, have you got your old/second hand/dollar store dog equipment? Good! Then you are ready for your new puppy!

Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs Are Not The Same: A Helpful Guide

Posted on May 21, 2018September 15, 2020Categories Assistance Dog Skills, FeaturedTags , , , , ,

One of the more difficult aspects of our job is trying to identify what people mean when they call us and say they want their dog “certified as a PADS dog”.

Pacific Assistance Dogs Society is a Burnaby-based service dog charity recognized by Assistance Dogs International. They specialize in dogs for the Deaf and disabled, and they also provide facility therapy dogs for organizations like the RCMP, Canuck’s Place Children’s Hospice, and local schools.

Wag the Dog cannot get your dog certified as a PADS dog, because we are not PADS!

Only PADS dogs are certified PADS dogs.

What do people really mean when they say they want their dog to be a PADS dog?

It usually boils down to one of the following:

  • “I want my own dog certified as a service dog for myself or a family member.”
  • “I want my own dog certified as a facility therapy dog for a school or nursing home.”
  • “I want my dog to be certified as “in training” so my landlord can’t evict me.”

I’d like to help clear up the confusion around these three statements. Many clients aren’t really sure what they want or whether it is achievable because they are hazy on the terms and legal definitions regarding service dogs, therapy dogs, and other dogs granted public access.

What is the difference between a service dog and a therapy dog?

A guide or service dog is recognized by the provincial government as your personal support animal. You need this dog due to a medical problem or disability and the government has granted you legal rights to bring the dog wherever you go.

Examples of guide or service dogs are:

  • A Guide Dog for the Blind
  • A Hearing Alert Dog for the Deaf
  • A Mobility Assistance Dog for those in wheelchairs or with balance difficulties.
  • A Psychiatric Support Dog for those with PTSD, severe anxiety, or autism
  • A Diabetic or Seizure Alert Dog for those with diabetes or epilepsy.

Examples of therapy dogs:

  • A dog who visits the local nursing home or hospice to comfort the residents
  • A dog who attends school with a teacher to comfort the students
  • A dog who accompanies first responders to comfort accident and trauma victims.

Guide/Service dogs are legally recognized and come with legal rights and protections.

Therapy dogs do not.

A teacher who wishes to bring a therapy dog into the school must get permission from the school board. A first responder who wishes to use a therapy dog to comfort their patients must get permission from their employer. A dog who visits a care home or hospital must get permission from the facility in question.

A service dog does not.

A service dog is considered your personal medical aid and it is welcomed wherever you are, with the exception of public health hazards such as in the kitchen of a restaurant or the burn ward of a hospital.

A service dog has been through a government certification process to confirm that you genuinely need the dog and that the dog is suitable for service dog work.

There is no government certification process for a therapy dog.

St. John’s Ambulance offers a therapy dog program which is well respected and recognized by most hospitals, schools, and other facilities.

However, a St. John’s Ambulance Dog can still be legally turned away if the hospital or school does not want the dog there.

What about emotional support dogs?

Canada does not recognize emotional support dogs as being different from regular pets. Every dog is an emotional support dog. We can all benefit from the love and companionship of our pets, and that is why we should strive to train them to be well mannered in public, so we can bring them more places and enjoy their company more.

People with a diagnosed psychiatric disability such as PTSD, anxiety disorders, or neurological conditions such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, and autism, often benefit from the assistance of a service dog. These are psychiatric service dogs and they perform trained tasks to actively make the world more accessible to their handlers.

For example, an autism dog may serve as a guide, providing a comforting handle to hold. A PTSD dog may help lead their handler away from triggers.

These are service dogs, not emotional support dogs.

What about dogs in training to be service dogs? Do they have legal rights?

No. Many people misunderstand a subsection of the BC Guide Dog legislation regarding the certification of dogs in training.

Prior to the updating of this legislation a few years ago, provincially and internationally recognized schools like PADS did not have the legal right to train their dogs in public, despite the necessity of working in public in order to train a service dog.

The new legislation changed this and now grants trainers from certified schools legal rights to train service dogs in public.

This right is not extended to uncertified members of the public who wish to train their own dog. If you have hopes of turning your puppy into your personal, legally-recognized service dog someday, but your landlord wants to evict the dog, you have no legal recourse.

Wag the Dog can not help you. PADS cannot help you.

Your best hope is to find a more understanding landlord, and/or get your dog certified ASAP.

Keep in mind that many public places such as malls and cafes tolerate dogs in training so long as your dog is clearly marked as being “in training” and you are open about the fact that your dog is not yet certified.

Please also keep in mind that if your dog is not certified and you insist on public access you could be subject to prosecution. Be honest about your dog’s certification status always.  

What does certification entail?

In order to get your dog certified as a service dog, your doctor must sign a form certifying your medical need for the dog. Then you and the dog must go through a rigorous 40 item obedience test to demonstrate that you have full verbal control over your dog, that your dog can be calm and unobtrusive in public, and that your dog will stay close to you and ignore other people in public.

Your dog must pass with 100% in order to be certified.

Wag the Dog can help you prepare for this test.

To learn more, visit our Assistance Dog Training page.

Having trouble deciding whether to take the service dog or therapy dog route?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

Do you have a medical need for your dog?

If yes, then you want a service dog. If no, then you want a therapy dog.

Do you want your dog to ignore the public and focus on you?

If yes, then you want a service dog. If no, then you want a therapy dog.

I hope this helps clear up the confusion. If you have more questions feel free to contact us at

Dog Training Secrets Of The Stars

Posted on September 12, 2016November 23, 2020Categories Dogs, Featured, Great Tricks, Videos

If your dog is ever going to be a star, they’ll need to learn how to hit their mark, and perform! Your dog may know a few cool tricks, but can they get up on stage, or stand up in front of a camera, without you by their side?

One of the most difficult skills your dog will ever learn is how to work at a distance. Dogs generally respond well when they are within a few feet of their handler, but the rate of response declines substantially as the distance between dog and handler increases.

Because we are so fond of letting our dogs off-leash and then barking commands at them from 100 yards away, we ought to teach them to understand our cues from a distance.

Teach Cues at a Distance

We will begin by teaching your dog to respond to cues on a pedestal, so that they can easily learn to stay put, then we will challenge them by having them perform at a ‘mark.’

Step 1) Pedestal Training

Have your dog jump on a picnic table, stump, or bed. You may choose to purchase or make a low table or pedestal for your dog. Alternatively, set them up at the edge of a landing, staircase, curb, or mat, so long as the edge is obvious to your dog. Your dog will have an easier time performing from a distance if they are taught to remain in a well defined area.

You’ll notice that pedestal training is awesome for teaching dogs to hold positions for long periods without trying to move or creep forward. I recommend you try this same method if your dog is struggling to learn how to stay put while you back away. It also helps to tie them to a tree or something and work at the end of it, so that they are restrained from moving toward you.


Ask your dog to ‘wait,’ and step just a foot or two away. Now give your ‘sit’ cue. If they look puzzled or try to move forward, go to them and help by reminding them with your more familiar, nearby ‘sit’ cue. They will learn to anticipate your ‘sit’ cue, which always seems to come right after this strange new ‘sit’ cue that you give at a distance.


Use pedestal training when teaching dogs to ‘stand.’ Dogs tend to take steps forward as they stand, unless you begin teaching them in a spot where they can’t, at least not without falling off the edge of something and noticing their mistake! Keep working at a defined edge until the pattern of movement is set in your dog’s muscle memory.

Teach your dog to ‘stand’ on command: Draw your lure straight out from their nose while they are seated. As they stand up to follow the treat, say ‘yes!’ and quickly push your lure back into their mouth to keep them from taking a step forward. Release your dog to the side so your dog never takes steps forward after the ‘stand’ cue. Continue training on a pedestal for weeks, perhaps months, so that your dog can commit the pattern of movement to their muscle memory.

‘Stand’ at a distance is the toughest. If your dog stands without taking steps forward, mark with ‘yes!’ and reward them. Always deliver treats to the spot where your dog performs the cue so that they are motivated to stay put. If they take steps forward, ask them to back up if they know that cue, it seems to clue them in to their mistake. Alternatively, you can try returning them to the correct spot, and repeating the exercise. Give the cue from just a foot away, swiftly pushing food into their mouth as they get up to prevent forward movement.

My ‘stand’ hand signal is a palm facing the dog with my elbow at 90 degrees. My ‘back’ hand signal is that same signal–but with sight movement motioning them back. It is helpful to have your stand/back hand signals appear similar and to use them together. Your dog should only ever expect to step backward or sideways from a ‘stand’ cue. If you want to release by having the dog move forward or jump from the pedestal, I suggest doing one more cue first, like a sit or a down, before releasing forward.


If ‘sit’ to ‘stand’ is going well, try ‘down’ from a distance. If your dog has always sat before lying down, you may need to remind them to go down elbows first, so go over and give them help if needed. They may also try to creep forward, so be sure to return them to the correct spot before repeating an easier version of the exercise.

If ‘stand’ to ‘down’ is going well, try ‘sit’ from a ‘down’ at a distance. Your dog may want to creep forward to ‘sit’ from a ‘stand’ and may struggle to ‘sit’ from a ‘down.’ In both cases, move closer to them and offer help. When you add a new cue, and any time your dog struggles to follow a cue, such as when given in a new context, remember to always follow proper command structure.

  • Give the cue

  • Wait 2 seconds

  • Offer your dog help to succeed if needed

  • Say ‘Yes!’ and reward

Step #2) Responding to Cues at a ‘Mark’

Pre-requisite training: ‘Mark’ + any cues you’d like to teach from a distance such as: ‘sit, down, stand, spin, speak, wave, bang, roll-over,’ etc.

Begin after a quick session of working on a pedestal, so that the muscles are primed to perform without creeping forward. I like to teach dogs to target post-it notes. I place them anywhere I’d like the dog to go, making them the ideal mark. If you’d ever like to go to the next level with your obedience, and especially if you’d like to have your dog act in movies or on TV, then this advanced training tip is for you.

Cue your dog to ‘sit’ the next time they touch their ‘mark.’ If they try to come toward you, remind them to go to their mark, and toss a treat when they do. Repeat, and try to encourage your dog if you see them thinking about the mark and the cue to ‘sit.’ Your dog may look back and forth between your ‘sit’ hand signal and the mark. They are figuring it out. You can see my dog Doug trying to understand the concept of responding to cues at a mark in the video.

Once your dog is happily performing his favourite cues at his mark, you can increase your distance from it. Begin by standing within 2 feet of the mark, and increase the distance gradually. Always return to the mark to place treat on it, or deliver it directly to your dog so that they are motivated to stay there. You’ll need to treat cues at a mark like any other new trick, and give them more reinforcement at first.

Now your dog is almost ready to begin a career as a canine actor! But don’t get wrapped up in the possibilities of fame and fortune, you’ve already won the big prize: a stronger bond with your best friend. I hope you have fun taking your dog’s obedience to the next level with these advanced exercises, I know your dog will enjoy it!

Trick Tutorial: Weave & Figure 8

Posted on September 3, 2016September 15, 2020Categories Dogs, Featured

You’re walking, and your dog is weaving in and out through your legs as you go. You stop, and your dog completes a figure 8 through your legs while you stand there. Awesome!

This trick looks super cool!

You may have seen this move in dog dancing, and you can take your ‘weave’ cue to the agility ring as well, but you don’t need a fancy obstacle course, or music, to make magic with this dog trick!

Sit gets boring, don’t you think?

Teach your dog something fun! You might not see anything particularly useful about parlour tricks like these, but I can write a list of 100 bad things your dog cannot do while he is fully engaged in this trick.

Doing something fun together builds your bond, and your dog learns something really important too: they learn to love working for you!

Learning to focus on you amid distractions is an amazing side effect of teaching something your dog will love to do. So I’d say that teaching this trick is well worth your while.

Teach ‘Weave’

Begin with treats in both hands. Take a big, lunging step forward. Now, lure your dog from your inner thigh through to your outer thigh by reaching through from the outside. If you’ve taken your first step with your left foot, you’ll begin luring with your left hand.

Say ‘yes!’ as they go through, and reward. Always lure from the inside of your leg to the outside, so that your dog doesn’t get confused, and try to enter the weave on the wrong step.

Once your dog is weaving easily through your legs, add the cue ‘weave,’ and begin fading your lure.

Do plenty of repetitions over a session or two to ensure they get the right idea. Now, instead of leading them through, you’ll show them the treat only when necessary.

  1. Say “weave” and take a lunging step forward

  2. Wait 2 seconds

  3. Hint to your dog by letting them see the treat, if necessary

  4. Say “yes!” and reward

Keep your hands on your hips, only dropping your hint when your dog needs it. Drop your treat from your waist to just below your outer thigh so that your dog can see it. Soon, upon your cue to ‘weave,’ your dog will anticipate that a treat will appear soon, and will go through to find it.

Teach Figure 8 Weaving

Stand still, legs wider than shoulder width, and pop out one knee to cue your dog to ‘weave’ through. Lure from the inner thigh through, and then around to the front of your body again.

Now, pop out your other knee and lure them through with your other hand around your knee and to the front again. Next, you’ll fade your lure, and show your dog the treat just below your outer thigh only if they fail to ‘weave’ within 2 seconds.

“Should I tell my dog “no” if he gets it wrong?”

-Don’t bother, scientific research has found that dogs learn faster, and try harder, when we ignore their missteps and focus on rewarding the behaviour we want.

I actually find that the most challenging part of dog training is resisting the urge to laugh when things inevitably, adorably go awry in the training process.

Laughter is an amazing reinforcer, and your dog will want to repeat anything that makes you smile or laugh.

Dog training should be a fun game, not an arduous chore that you leaves you frustrated.

Teach your dog this fun trick, and let it remind you that all training should be like this.

If your dog isn’t wagging along, and your cheeks aren’t sore from smiling when you’re done, then you’re doing this dog training thing all wrong.