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.

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.

Why?

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

Size:

“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.

Intelligence:

“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.

Temperament

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.

New Puppy? This is priority 1

Posted on February 9, 2019April 12, 2021Categories Kids and Pets, Puppyhood, UncategorizedTags

Socialization and Conditioning

Ensuring your puppy is adequately socialized and conditioned to accept and enjoy the oddities, stressors, and changes in life is among the most urgent training tasks you must accomplish NOW, before your puppy reaches 16 weeks of age.

This critical period cannot be missed. Your puppy must have a wide array of pleasant experiences with people of all kinds, and dogs of every age and breed. You’ll need to find nice cats to mingle with, and don’t forget the cows, pigs, goats, birds, and rabbits, as many species as possible, especially the ones your dog is likely to encounter in their lifetime. Your puppy will need to meet kids and babies in a controlled setting with gentle, controlled kids. Your puppy will need to learn to love being alone, bandaged, handled, groomed, and examined by the vet too. You’ll need to accomplish all this, and much more, by the time your puppy is 16 weeks old.

But What About The Vaccinations?

Yes, you should socialize your puppy BEFORE their shots are complete. I refer you to the AVSAB Puppy Socialization Position Statement and I encourage you to socialize early. Your 8-week-old puppy may already be woefully behind if they were raised in a barn, kennel, or any space separated from the hustle and bustle of the kind of environment you intend for them to cope with. Good breeders have a single litter raised in their kitchen and they purposefully expose puppies to varied stimuli.

What’s the risk?

Under socialized dogs are fearful of new situations. Failure to socialize will mean that interactions with strangers will be terrifying rather than joyful. Being groomed will be a stressful nightmare that repeats each month rather than a lovely ‘spa day’ treat. Your dog will shudder and run at the sound of loud trucks, fireworks, and thunderstorms, and shriek with fear on Halloween, making them more likely to run away and/or get lost and/or struck by a vehicle. They will bark at the vacuum, men with canes, and people who use wheelchairs. You dog may snap or bite when a child unexpectedly pokes them or tugs their tail. Indeed, socialization is a life and death matter.

How to socialize safely

It isn’t good enough to simply take your puppy everywhere and meet as many people as possible. Good socialization is pleasant, low stress, and low risk. We want your puppy to LOVE kids, to LOVE being groomed, to LOVE the world they live in. The best way to ensure that your puppy loves the new friends they meet, becomes confident with the surfaces they walk on, and learns to accept their time spent alone happily is to pair these new things with treats. Offering your puppy a tasty treat, a toy you know they love, pets, and praise when they bravely explore the world will help your puppy make positive associations to potentially scary stimuli like people wearing Halloween masks, screaming children running by, skateboards, clanging pans, and gunfire.

Allow your puppy to approach and explore at their own pace, never force or try to ‘flood’ your puppy by remaining too long, too close, or in too intense of a situation for your puppy to be comfortable. Meet only friendly, vaccinated, gentle dogs. Socializing with puppies of similar age is very important for bite inhibition. Attending a well-run puppy class well before your puppy is 14 weeks of age will allow your puppy to socialize in a relatively sterile environment and minimize the risk of contracting parvovirus. You should continue to reward and encourage friendly, playful behaviour throughout adolescence.

Going to puppy play school is fun!

Classical conditioning is the learning process that allows us to ensure that dogs make positive associations. Pair great things like treats with potentially irritating, scary, or loud things like truck backfires, kennel time, wearing garments like boots, umbrellas opening, getting accidentally stepped on, things falling on the ground, children screaming etc.

Parvo is transmitted through feces, so inviting a friend over to your clean, fenced yard to play is a great idea.

Prevent resource guarding

Do not constantly put your hand in your dog’s dish or take away their bones and toys to teach them to “get used to it”.

  1. Make a few positive associations so that your dog loves having you near their dish. Toss liver treats into your puppy’s dish of kibble. Take the dish away and add more liver before returning it.
  2. Make a few good trades so that your puppy learns to eagerly give up prized possessions when asked. An old toy for this fresh bone, sure!
  3. And then, just leave your puppy alone most of the time to eat, chew, and sleep in peace.  

Socializing with dogs

Don’t just toss them into the dog park. Choosing playmates that are well-matched is important. We want our puppies to meet a good variety of dogs but all of them should be puppy-friendly and vaccinated. Playmates of the same age are particularly great for burning off playful energy. The sensitive period for socialization is a time when puppies are primed to accept novelty but they are also primed to be negatively impacted by traumatic experiences. They are learning about the world and we want them to learn that the world is safe.

Socializing with kids

It is of the utmost importance that children are NEVER left alone with dogs or puppies, and that parents and kids take responsibility for learning, reading, and respecting canine body language.

Rewarding puppies with treats, praise, and petting when they see, hear, or are touched by kids can help. Being around kids should be wonderful, try not to scold or punish puppies too much around kids. Instead, expect that without guidance, your puppy will be a puppy. They will run around jumping, kissing, nipping, chasing, barking, and generally be a puppy. Be proactive, use your leash, treats, and obedience training to teach your pup how to interact calmly and appropriately in the first place so that everyone can have a great experience.

Allow them to communicate (even if that means growling!) to prevent and avoid bites. If your puppy seems uncomfortable, stop socializing. Dogs need an escape route and a responsible adult to look out for their signs of discomfort. Make sure your socialization protocol is safe, stress free, and rewarding for your new puppy.

Teach kids to stroke dogs on the back and to avoid touching their head, face, feet, ears, and tails. 1 child at a time petting for 3 seconds at a time is a good rule of thumb. After 3 seconds, ask kids to back away to check if the puppy still comes to them for more.

Watch our video on introducing your puppy to touch, handling, and grooming tools

Check out this great socialization checklist from Dr. Sophia Yin

Well, you’ve got your work cut out for you so get out there and have fun socializing your puppy!

Teach your dog to do ‘laundry’

Posted on June 13, 2016Categories Assistance Dog Skills, Dogs, Great Tricks, Kids and Pets, Please Share, Videos

This article will describe how simple it is to teach your dog to put laundry into a basket, or toys in a box, or trash in a can. If your dog already loves to retrieve, you could teach this trick to your dog within a week, training for just a few minutes a day!

When we teach dogs to retrieve, we begin with soft, easy items like socks, and advance to leather, wood, plastic, and finally metal items. Helping with the laundry is a fun rainy day game that is well suited to novice dogs and their handlers.

Teach your dog to do ‘laundry’

Step 1) Begin by tossing balled socks as though they were toys. After a couple successful retrieves, try again with a basket right in front of you. Use your cue to ‘drop it’ or simply offer them a treat at the right moment to get them to drop the sock into the basket. If the sock lands in the basket, mark with ‘yes!’ and give them a treat. If the sock lands outside the basket, ask them to retrieve it again.

Step 2) Try placing multiple items out to retrieve, beginning with small pieces of clothing like socks and underwear. Your dog might try to retrieve the first item out of the basket. Try to catch their nose with a treat so that they drop the first item again, and then lead them by the nose directly to the next item. Some dogs can be very determined that they should keep retrieving the first item out of the basket, it is adorable, so don’t get frustrated.

Step 3) Give your cue to do ‘laundry’ a few feet away from the basket, stepping toward it if they try to retrieve the item directly to you.

Not only is this trick easy, once you teach them to do retrieve to a target, you have already taught them the basic behaviour chain behind so many other cool tricks like putting trash in can, playing basketball, and putting toys in a box. Your kids will love teaching your dog to clean up their room, and you will be shocked by how soon you’ll have your own barking butler!

 

Featured This Month: Walnut Struts His Stuff

Posted on October 14, 2012Format VideoCategories 100 Reasons To Love Wag The Dog, Dogs, Great Tricks, Kids and Pets, Videos

Meet Walnut, a 1 year old Havanese Mix and our Wag The Dog of the Month!

Walnut’s eagerness to learn and his family’s willingness to keep raising their goals for him higher and higher have more than earned him a feature on our website. Check out how far this young dog has come in the past 9 months…

Walnut’s Bio:

Walnut came to Wag The Dog as a 4 month old puppy with a tendency to nip, snap, pull on the leash, and steal the family socks. He woke his family up at 6 am with his ear-piercing yips… even on a Sunday. He ran away when called, bit people on the bum, and basically acted like, well… an untrained puppy!

Continue reading “Featured This Month: Walnut Struts His Stuff”

Can Your Child Walk The Dog?

Posted on July 25, 2012Format VideoCategories 100 Reasons To Love Wag The Dog, Dogs, Kids and Pets, VideosTags , , , , , , , ,

Walking safely on leash is one of the most important forms of controlling your dog.

A dog who tugs and pulls at the leash is not only annoying, but a danger to himself and others. Even a small dog can yank a leash out of his unsuspecting owner’s fingers and dash in front of a car. A large dog can do the same, but can also pull his owner right into the road with him. Owners of large dogs can have their fingers broken when their dog lunges at the leash unexpectedly, and may be pulled right off of their feet.

Photo credit to Tobyotter

The pulling-on-the-leash problem becomes even more serious in a family situation. A pregnant woman is precarious on her feet at the best of times, especially in wet winter weather. A pulling dog is simply an accident waiting to happen. Children also love to walk the family dog, but again, even a small dog can pull a child right over.

At Wag The Dog, we teach the entire family to control the family dog safely.

While children and dogs should always be supervised when together, it is entirely possible to teach them to play and interact in a safe and controlled manner. When you have taught both child and dog how to handle each other properly, the bond between them can be a truly heart warming thing to witness.

Some dog trainers refuse to work with child handlers, requiring an adult to handle the dog in training classes.

Not at Wag The Dog. We love to include children in the dog training process.

Even children under the age of two can be involved.

In the following video, 21 month old William participates in training the family dog to walk nicely on a leash with him:

If you are looking forward to doing the same thing at home, there are a few training pre-requisites that your dog and child must be able to meet:

Dog

  • Knows “leave it”
  • Good on-leash skills with an adult handler
  • Gentle at taking treats
  • Good off-leash control

Child

  • Knows not to eat dog treats
  • Enjoys giving treats to the dog
  • Understands the concept of walking the dog
  • Follows single step instructions, like “walk over there” or “give the dog the cookie”

The best part about teaching a dog to walk nicely on leash with a child is that it boosts the bond between them. Dogs tend to get the upper hand over toddlers, snatching food from their hands and bowling them over when they are excited. When the leash is handed to a small child, the dog tends to treat the child as nothing more than a post that he has been tied to, and he quickly finds out that he can pull free of the post.

Training the dog to respond to the child’s instructions helps establish the child as “dominant” over the dog, and the frequent use of cookie rewards motivates the dog to follow the child.

How To Train A Dog To Be Walked By A Child:

The most important part of this process is starting the training off-leash.

If the dog learns how easy it is to pull the leash free from the child’s hands, he is rewarded for his efforts and more likely to do that again. If the dog pulls the child over, the child may be hurt, and safety is key in any dog training exercise!

Instead, start in a fenced yard or in the house, and have the dog choose to follow the child for the sake of frequent treat rewards. You can attach a command to that, such as “follow Susie” or (as in the video example) “Go with Will”. The dog begins to feel that he is choosing to stay close to the child as he or she walks around, and there is no opportunity to learn bad habits.

Only once the behaviour is well established do you want to actually try tying the dog to the child.

Incidentally, this is the best way to train any dog to heel nicely on-leash: start off-leash!

Remember that small children should always be supervised when walking or playing with the family dog, and that safety begins with teaching both child AND dog how to behave well around each other.

This exercise works on both, which is why we love it so much!

Photo Credit to JustycinMD

With a little work, you can help start a long and beautiful friendship. 

For more great tips on dog training, visit Wag The Dog often or follow us on Facebook. 

If you live in the Vancouver area and would like us to come to your home and help you in person, please don’t hesitate to email us at team@wagthedog.ca or by phone: 604-781-8448