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 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. https://assistancedogsinternational.org/resources/member-search/

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.

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.

Peek-a-boo!

Posted on September 27, 2016Categories Dogs, Great Tricks, Please Share, VideosTags , , , ,

Peek-a-boo is such a cute dog trick! Your dog learns to pop up between your legs, which is a fun game some dogs discover on their own (typically, while in attendance at formal parties.) I’ve taught my dogs to ‘peek-a-boo-you’ so that  I can send them to goose someone else (while in attendance at informal parties, mostly.) Though, this trick can be classy; adding ‘chorus line kicks,’ so that your dog walks dramatically along with you will delight any dog dancing enthusiast. You can teach your dog to ‘peek-a-boo’ too, in just a 3 easy steps!

Teach ‘Peek-a-boo!’

  1. Cue ‘peek-a-boo’ by putting your hands on your hips, and popping both knees out.

  2. Lure your dog into position

  3. Say ‘yes!’ and reward

It’s smart to practice luring your dog through a few times before you add the cue. Begin with treats in both hands, holding one behind you so that your dog can see the teat between your legs. Once your dog is through and behind you, reach through your legs with your other hand from the front so that you can lure them forward and into position. Say ‘yes!’ when your dog is right between your legs, and reward. As you get better at luring, and your dog gets the hang of it, you’ll find that you can lure them easily with just one hand.

Don’t forget to release! I always release my dog from the peek-a-boo position with ‘okay’ so that I can have them hold that position as long as I want and perform the advanced peek-a-boo tricks.

Stimulus Control, for Safety’s Sake!

Getting this trick under stimulus control means that your dog won’t perform the trick absent of the cue. While you could choose almost any combination of verbal or hand signals you’d like as your cue, I recommend that bending your knees always be part of your ‘peek-a-boo’ cue. Don’t reward your dog’s peek-a-boo unless you bent your knees and asked for it. This will prevent your dog from trying to peek-a-boo people who may be knocked over, justifiably surprised by a large dog suddenly appearing in their crotch.

Bonus Tricks

The peek-a-boo walk: Feed your dog as you take steps forward, then start feeding after a step or two, then after 3 or 4 steps, increasing the time spent walking in the peek-a-boo position gradually. Always release your dog.

Chorus line kicks: Ask your dog to ‘shake-a-paw’ or ‘wave’ a few times before your next ‘peek-a-boo.’ Now, cue your dog to ‘shake-a-paw’ from the ‘peek-a-boo’ position. You may need to lean forward at first, but you’ll eventually fade your hand signal to just a quick flash of fingers at your hip. Kick out your right leg and cue your dog to shake/wave with your right hand. I like to use ‘right’ and ‘left’ because it is easy way to teach the meaning of those words while my dog is facing the same direction as me. Now, kick your left leg out and cue your ‘left’ shake. It still looks rough in the video, but soon this trick will look like my dog is high kicking along with me as I walk!

Add another dog: Once you have your first dog in position, pop your knees out again and ask your second dog to ‘peek-a-boo’ too! So cute!

Play ‘peek-a-boo you!’: This is a fun version of the ‘go to’ game that you can play with a friend or family member. Begin with just two people, standing just a few feet apart, facing one another. Cue your dog to ‘peek-a-boo you,’ (or name names), and point. Now, stand completely still and silent, and let your partner cue your dog to ‘peek-a-boo.’ Both people should have treats, luring if necessary. Ensure the dog is successful 90% of the time before increasing distance or adding more people.

Peek-a-boo makes a fun frisbee trick too! I like to let Doug grab the frisbee as he comes through, and I’ll reward him with a game of tug and another chance to catch the frisbee.

You may find that your dog is nervous to go through your legs at first. Let them eat as they go, and reward them with genuine enthusiasm. Soon, they will learn to love this trick, and their confidence in themselves, and trust in you, will have increased. If you’ve ever wanted your dog to stare up at you, wondering what fun thing you’ll do together next, then this trick is for you! Give it a try and have fun with your dog!

 

Jump Over My Leg

Posted on June 24, 2016Categories Dogs, Great Tricks, Please Share, VideosTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Got a leg? Then teach your dog to jump over it! This trick is easy, fun, and will burn energy almost anywhere.

Teach your dog to jump over your leg

Jumping over and over isn’t for puppies, wait until your dog is at least 1.5 years old, 2 for giant breeds before teaching this trick.

Begin with your foot against a wall, fence, or tree. Save your hamstring the trouble and keep your foot low, it will help your dog learn to go over, not under your leg. Lure your dog over your outstretched leg with a treat. Say ‘yes!’ and reward your dog with a tasty treat, be especially enthusiastic if they jump high.

Once your dog is happily jumping over, add the cue ‘hup’ or ‘jump,’ and begin gradually raising your leg up. You’ll need to ask your dog to ‘sit’ or ‘wait’ a few feet away so that they can take a run at it.

Do dozens of reps over at least a week’s time before slowly, gradually moving away from the wall, fence, or tree. You will know you’ve gone too far, too fast when your dog cheats and circles your leg instead of jumping over. Smart boy! He knows an easier route! Don’t laugh, you’ll only reinforce his cheating ways, just go back a little closer to the wall and do a few more reps. Your dog needs plenty of practice to set the pattern and learn the cue.

We think your dog will love this trick! Have fun!

Hoop Jump

Posted on June 22, 2016Categories Dogs, Great Tricks, Please Share, VideosTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Teach your dog to jump through a hula hoop! You probably have one lying around, and if not, they aren’t hard to come by, which makes this trick an easy bet for summer fun!

What you’ll need: A hula hoop large enough for your dog to jump through, treats, and an adult dog. You can find hula hoops at toy stores and dollar stores. Make sure that the hoop isn’t designed to make noise,  drain any noisemaking beads if necessary so that your dog isn’t startled by the hoop. Jumping over and over isn’t for puppies, wait until your dog is at least 1.5 years old, 2 for giant breeds.

Step 1: Hold the hoop on the ground and lure your dog through with a treat. Say ‘yes!’ and feed them as they go through the hoop.

Step 2: Hold the treat on the other side of the hoop and ask you dog to make the first move. Say ‘yes!’ and feed them once they have made it through the hoop.

Step 3: Hold the hoop an inch or two off the ground, and repeat step 2 a few times, gradually raising the hoop.

Step 4: Once your dog is jumping through with ease, add your cue to ‘hup’ or ‘jump’ or ‘hoop’ to name their new trick!

Step 5: Have your dog ‘sit’ or ‘wait’ and step a few feet away, hold out your hoop give your cue to ‘hup!’ Stare at the hoop, not your dog, and show them the treat on the other side if they struggle.

Bonus Step 6: The double hoop jump trick! Add another hoop, and teach your dog to follow your eye by looking toward the hoop you’d like them to jump through. They will learn to jump around you in a continuous loop!

Bonus Hula Hoop tricks: You can also use your new hoop jump trick to teach your dog to jump over your back, your leg, through your arms, and much more!

Ring of fire: Cover your hula hoop in tissue paper and cut a hole big enough that your dog will still jump through it. Repeat the process with increasingly smaller openings until you have a dog that will jump through the covered hoop, with just a small hole at the centre! Draw some cool flames on it, or maybe your dog’s name, and let him jump through it to begin your show, even if it’s just for grandma and her friends at the nursing home. Your dog will delight and amaze!

We think you and your dog will love this trick!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Leap Dog!

Posted on June 5, 2016March 1, 2020Categories Dogs, Great Tricks, Please Share, Videos

Got 2 dogs? Teach them this fun trick!

When you have 2 dogs, they tend to get really good at obedience, learning to lie ‘down’ patiently while the other dog is trained, and they get really good at listening for their name, so that they know when it is finally their turn! Sometimes though, it is nice to teach a trick that the two of them can do together.

Because this trick involves one dog jumping over another, you’ll need to assess your dogs’ suitability in either role. Some pairs of dogs won’t be safe attempting this trick, such as Great Dane Danny and his little sister, Chloe the Chihuahua. My dogs are well suited because I have a sturdy, tough mastiff to hold steady on the bottom while my lighter, agile, athletic boxer floats effortlessly over his back.

Teach Your Dogs to ‘Leap Dog!’

Prerequisite training cues for jumper: ‘jump’

Prerequisite training cues for bottom dog: ‘down,’ and ‘stand’

You’ll need to teach at least one dog to jump on cue over something like a log, or a broom set between 2 chairs (or stacks of books for small dogs). Begin with low, easy jumps, marking with ‘yes!’ or a clicker, and rewarding any jump that clears the bar with extra enthusiasm. It is important that your jumper gets good at jumping high into the air before you advance to jumping over a dog.

Optional: Place your bottom dog under your bar jump in a ‘down’ for a few reps to give them the right idea.

Step 1) Bottom dog eats during the jump

Your bottom dog will hold a ‘down’ position while your jumper leaps over their back. In your regular obedience training, your dog will likely lie down with legs outstretched to the side so that they are comfortable staying for long periods. For ‘leap dog’ purposes, a prone or sphinx style  ‘down’ position is preferred, with the legs tucked under the body, so that your jumper will not accidentally land on a foot, tail, or an exposed private part. If your dog always seems to leave it all hanging out, so to speak, try doing a few quick puppy push-ups: ‘sit, stand, down, sit, stand, down, sit, down,’ encouraging your dog to respond to the next cue the very moment they complete the last. Your dog will stop flopping over and instead crouch ‘down’ like a sphinx, poised and ready to ‘stand.’ While your dog is crouched ‘down’ perfectly, feed them a treat to keep them still while you cue your other dog to ‘jump’ over their back.

Letting your bottom dog eat during the jump will ensure that they don’t pop up at the wrong moment should they be startled by the flying dog overhead. They will also learn to love this new ‘dinner and a show’ trick you’ve come up with. You can begin using the ‘leap dog!’ cue once they have the hang of it, but continue using your ‘jump’ hand signal. I use a flick of the wrist, but feel free to make up your own hand signal. Signals that gesture in the direction of the movement you expect are best.

Step 2) Bottom dog eats after the jump

Now you’ll begin rewarding your bottom dog after the jump. You will stand up straight and encourage your bottom dog to hold a ‘down’ position, placing a handful of treats between their paws for the first few reps so that they keep busy eating while you cue your jumper to ‘leap dog!’ Saying ‘yes!’ as they jump, and dropping more treats between the bottom dog’s paws afterward.

When it comes to reinforcing these behaviours, make sure to reward your bottom dog plenty! Their job may not be as glamorous, but it is important that they learn to love holding still while the other dog has all the fun jumping. You can begin fading treats with your jumper almost immediately, because jumping itself is so fun, and you’ll want to mark and reward only the highest jumps.

Step 3) Bottom dog stands

Have your bottom dog ‘stand,’ and feed them while you cue your jumper to ‘leap dog!’ Feed your bottom dog during the jump at first so that they continue loving this trick, even if they get a toe nail in the back a few times during the learning phase.

Bonus Step 4) Give your cue from a distance

Cue your bottom dog to stand and step back a step a foot or two before cueing ‘leap dog!’ Step forward immediately to reward or to remind them what to do if they struggle. If either dog advances toward you, you’ll need to work on giving cues from a distance with your jumper, and pedestal train your bottom dog. Most dogs will want to move forward as they stand, and your jumper will likely try to jump in front of you. Watch in the video as Doug tries to figure out how to jump over Roscoe’s back while I stand a few feet away, he looks back and forth between my cue and Roscoe’s back before finally attempting the jump. You’ll notice me giving them plenty of treats the first time they figure out how to do this trick at a distance, it is tricky stuff!

 

Announcement: New Discount Available at Wag The Dog!

Posted on March 27, 2012Categories 100 Reasons To Love Wag The Dog, Animal Health, News And Updates, Please Share

Great Vet, Great Discount!

We are delighted to announce that Wag The Dog now offers a 15% discount on services to clients of Healing Paws Veterinary Care in Port Moody!

This amazing veterinary clinic combines holistic approaches with conventional veterinary medicine, giving us the best of both worlds. To this great mix they add something even more special – a personal touch.

Those who have met the veterinarians and staff at Healing Paws will tell you that Healing Paws really cares.

When she isn’t training, you can often find Carol Millman working as a nurse at Healing Paws to keep up her animal health care skills. The positive staff atmosphere and their commitment to providing the best quality care possible makes her time there truly special.

Wag The Dog is a big believer in positive reinforcement, so we want to extend this discount as a thank you to Healing Paws for recommending Wag The Dog to clients, and for being so generally wonderful.

To learn about other ways to get discounts on services at Wag The Dog, check out our Rates, Packages and Discounts page!

To learn more about Wag The Dog, visit What We DoWho We Are, and Why We’re Different or check out our Facebook Page!