How I Became a Dog Trainer: Rachael Johnston’s Origin Story

Rachael, child, with Cara, dog

Growing up in Drayton Valley, Alberta, there were always multiple dogs in our home. I don’t remember a time in my life where we didn’t have at least one dog, sometimes cats, fish, and rabbits as well. My mom was so passionate about dogs – I get my passion for dogs from her.

Rachael, young child, with small white dog

During my University days, I didn’t have a dog, so I would just run around asking everybody that would possibly indulge me, “Can I pet your dog?” That’s how I got my fix of dog love – I’d sometimes call people across the street.

After graduating, I became a professional stage actor, and I needed a side hustle, so I thought becoming a dog trainer would be perfect for me. I loved dogs so much, and if I had to have a side hustle, it made sense to do something I was really interested in, and it would be easy to see clients for lessons in between breaks in my schedule with a lot of flexibility.

I found a professional dog training school located in Saanich, BC, signed up, and packed up and moved to begin my studies.

If This Is Dog Training, No Thanks

We were taught to use food, praise, and toys to teach new behaviours, but we also had choke chains on the dogs and we were taught how to physically punish our dogs when they didn’t do what we wanted. I didn’t know it at the time – but I was learning balanced training methods. Dominance theory was part of the curriculum, and if we allowed them to become more dominant than us, they’d take over. 

Rachael Johnston, with Eli, senior dog

It slowly sucked the life out of me. I went there quite excited to learn about dogs – but every time I had to deliver a correction to my dog, I felt sad, sick, and angry too. I wasn’t even sure who I was angry at. It just brought up really yucky feelings in me, and it was tense and stressful.

Dogs changed too. They started out happy and excited, and over time became less enthusiastic and more withdrawn. Some dogs started lunging and even snapping at their owners.

I worked really hard at the program, despite how I felt. I graduated with really high marks, but left thinking if this is dog training, I don’t want to do it ever again.

A Life Changing Book

Ready to return to Alberta, and never touch dog training again, the strangest thing happened. As we were graduating and leaving, a fellow student shared a book called “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Pryor with me, and she asked if I ever read it. I hadn’t, but it sounded interesting, so I gave it a read.

The book changed my whole life. It made me feel like the skies opened up. All of a sudden, I was so excited and inspired to train dogs again – I suddenly became aware there were other ways to train dogs that didn’t involve all the corrections and dominance theory. My spark that I lost over the course of the balanced training program was immediately reignited and I began ordering every book on positive reinforcement training I could find. I moved back to Alberta, settling in Calgary, and went to volunteer, and eventually became an instructor at Sit Happens (a positive reinforcement training school) while continuing my acting career.

Oscar, From Perfect Puppy to Aggressive Dog

My partner at the time and I decided it was time to get our first puppy together. I had never raised a puppy as an adult before, and we were excited. We did our research, and found the right breeder, and eventually brought home Oscar, our Vizsla, at 8 weeks old.

Oscar, Vizsla, Dog, Puppy
Oscar as a puppy

During the first year of Oscar’s life, he went through all the socialization and training classes, and did so well at them, he had lots of dog friends at the dog park, he had a great recall. Everything was textbook perfect.

But, at around a year of age, we brought Oscar over to my mom’s home, and while preparing all the dogs’ meals in the kitchen, a big resource guarding fight broke out. I had never seen dogs really fight, and it was one of the scariest things I ever experienced. All the humans in the kitchen (my brother, my dad) jumped in, shouting, to separate them. There was no physical damage, but the emotional damage had been done. 

I felt sick – I thought I had done everything right in raising Oscar as the perfect puppy – and if I did everything right, Oscar shouldn’t have behaved this way. 

The very next day, I went for a walk, and Oscar got into his first-ever fight at the dog park with a female Cane Corso.

In the coming weeks and months, fights at the park kept on getting more frequent. My partner called me one day and said, “Rachael, we can’t take Oscar to the park anymore. He just beat up a Gordon Setter puppy that was totally minding his own business.”

At this point, I was in a state of deep sadness – real mourning, because I realized the puppy I had worked so hard to raise, socialize, and train couldn’t be around dogs anymore, and I didn’t know what to do about it.

Rachael with Oscar, Vizsla, as a adolescent dog

I didn’t give up on Oscar and I decided to keep on learning from anyone who could teach me. My colleagues at Sit Happens helped me get started. I eventually enrolled in the Karen Pryor Academy, and graduated in 2009, to continue to become a better trainer. I drove three hours each way once a week to see a particular trainer who taught me about desensitization and counter-conditioning.

Learning as a Dog Walker

It was around that time, after being a working actor for over a decade, I started to question whether I wanted to continue with acting. I made the decision to move to Toronto, take a step back from acting, and just get a regular job and reflect.

Naturally, I looked for dog related work – and became a part-time instructor at When Hounds Fly, and a full-time dog walker. Becoming a full-time dog walker was such an important part of my development as a dog trainer, and it was life changing.

Being a dog walker for five years, walking two full groups per day, off-leash, taught me an incredible amount about how dogs interact with one another. I learned how to help dogs make good choices when interacting with one another.

When Oscar got into his first fight all those years ago, I thought I might die. I was so terrified. As a dog walker, you learn that dogs get mad at each other sometimes, and it’s not the end of the world. The dogs I walked helped me learn about their needs, their methods of communication, and in turn, I learned how to help them navigate tricky social situations peacefully. It was a team effort.

With this new knowledge, I was able to help Oscar even more. I taught him the engage-disengage exercise, so he was more manageable on-leash, but the challenge was getting him more comfortable in off-leash settings.

A Behavioural Setback and the Catalyst for Recovery

A behavioural setback ended up being the catalyst for a real breakthrough. In his midlife, Oscar developed severe separation anxiety. This meant I couldn’t leave him home alone while I walked dogs. He hadn’t been to an off-leash dog park in years, not since that final incident with the Gordon Setter puppy.

His separation anxiety forced me to take him with me on my group walks. He was a lot less reactive in general at this time, and I was much more skilled at this point, so I took him on group walks, making sure that all the greetings with the other dogs were done carefully so he could get comfortable with each of them.

When we arrived at the off-leash park, I spent extra time helping Oscar acclimate to the environment, so he could integrate and settle in his own time. Naturally, all the methods I used with Oscar were soundly based in positive reinforcement training.

If he ever felt a bit overwhelmed, Oscar could count on me to get him out of a sticky situation. Over time, off-leash group walks with Oscar became a well-orchestrated practice, and a two-way conversation and fluid dance between the two of us. He would tell me when he was having a hard time, and we’d pull back. On good days, we’d explore more together.

Some days, I could tell he was a bit nervous when new dogs approached him. It wasn’t perfect – sometimes he’d snap at them. But this was nothing like before, where the fights looked like Oscar was trying to kill the other dog.

Oscar, Vizsla, senior, final day

Oscar was changing slowly with every walk, though. Once in a while, I started to notice he’d approach a dog with “interested” body language, the kind that I hadn’t seen since he was a baby approaching with a wiggly tail and bouncy energy. He’d then start playing with them. Seeing that side of him come back after so many years brought me so much joy.

As Oscar improved, I was able to start boarding dogs in my home as well. Oscar started to recognize that having strange dogs in the house was no big deal, and in some rare cases, in his senior years, he would actually start playing with them, just like when he was a puppy. That playfulness fully came back in his final years.

My Greatest Teacher

In the end, this is what I have to say about Oscar. He taught me what it means to really, really, really love a dog. Loving a reactive dog takes a lot of courage, a lot of patience, and a lot of understanding and compassion. But if you are willing to extend that love and take your time with them, the bond that you will forge cannot be expressed in words.

Oscar getting into that fight in my mom’s kitchen was a traumatic incident, but it set me up for a lifetime of learning with Oscar. I feel I have so much to offer to reactive dog parents, not just in terms of technical knowledge and training techniques, but in terms of compassion and understanding. I truly understand what it’s like to be the person holding the leash of a dog that is thrashing around, biting, and trying to fight. It’s a scary place, but you don’t have to stay there forever. The journey out of there is pretty magical, if you’re brave enough to take those steps and start learning and growing.

Oscar, Viszla dog with Rachael, on a leash walk in the woods

Rachael’s long-term goal of helping more dogs like Oscar is coming to fruition this April, when she will be launching the first round of Reactive Dog Classes at When Hounds Fly’s South Etobicoke location. There, she’ll share what she has learned and help a lot of dogs (and their parents!) on their own road to recovery.

Origin Story: How Andre Yeu Got Into Dog Training

Tanner was a Beagle we rescued from a neglect situation and temporarily fostered in 1995

Families of the Chinese diaspora did not own dogs back in the 80s and early 90s. To my parents, dogs caused allergies and were messy. With the exception of one summer when we temporarily fostered a purebred Beagle named Tanner, the thought of asking for a dog growing up was unthinkable.

Finally, My Very Own First Dog

Tanner had a real influence on me, because nearly ten years later, living in Toronto, I would adopt my own Beagle and finally become a dog parent. The office manager at the company I worked for at the time was peppering me with rescue dog listings every day. One morning, Duke the Beagle’s listing crossed my inbox.

Not knowing anything about anything at the time, I was amazed to see a pure-bred, CKC registered Beagle in rescue. I thought back to Tanner and how awesome it would be to actually get to keep the dog I rescued this time!

I also thought that pure-breed dogs in rescue must be rare (ha!), so I quickly forwarded the listing to my partner, and that night, we discussed the economics (yes, we could afford doggy daycare every day, and a large budget for veterinary bills, food, insurance, everything!). We applied and were approved, and in very short order, the date was set to meet Duke and pick him up from his current owner.

Duke was owned by a hunter that kept him outdoors with multiple Beagles. He lived in a concrete floored kennel, kept in with a chainlink fence, and he had an uninsulated, unheated wood dog house he shared with his hunting mates. The owner was rehoming him because he wasn’t a great hunting dog, although he also said he didn’t get along with the others in his pack.

As an outdoor dog, he smelled absolutely terrible. He loved hunting though, because when we took him out of the kennel, he immediately dragged us to the hunter’s pickup truck trying to climb into the tailgate. He probably only knew two things – waiting in the kennel, and going to hunt.

Driving our new rescue dog home from the country

Today though, he’d be riding on the inside of our car with the passengers and moving to King West, and because he stank so badly, we went straight to the local doggy spa to get him washed and cleaned up.

I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility for Duke the moment we signed the paperwork and he became ours. I fell in love with him immediately. How could this be? It’s like there was a spot in my heart waiting for him to plug into.

I Did Everything Wrong

The first month or two of having Duke was the “honeymoon” period. He was excited to meet dogs on the street, (he’d spin in circles whenever one approached, and loved playing with them). We introduced him to many of our friends and neighbours and he got along with everyone. The rescue had told us to take obedience classes, and we were given the instructions to “go to places that train with food”, so we took him to classes at Who’s Walking Who (in the Distillery District at the time).

But during that time, I made so many mistakes.

Two days after bringing him home, we were walking him and going for groceries at the Liberty Village Metro. My partner, Hyedie, went inside to buy groceries while I waited outside with Duke. There was a large white dog (I later learned the dog was an intact male Dogo Argentino) tied up to a post. Duke wanted to go meet him, and I ignorantly let him. That tied up dog full on attacked Duke, latching onto him and biting, causing an ear tear. Duke managed to break away, escaping his ill-fitting collar, and literally tried to scale up a wall to escape. Passerbys were so upset by what they saw. I collected Duke and went home and felt like an absolute failure.

Duke had separation anxiety, so we were taking him to doggie daycare full-time. The first couple of weeks, he pulled to go in, and was excited to see some of his friends. We’d watch as he played with the dogs that were already inside. But over time, we noticed he started getting reluctant to go inside, and eventually he started to anchor and refused. Maybe Duke doesn’t like daycare anymore, we thought? (Duh!) We later learned that he was getting into fights with other dogs he disliked in the daycare, and the daycare staff would sequester, muzzle, and admonish him when he got into fights. He was on a citronella collar every day there.

Naturally, it was around this time instead of meeting dogs and spinning in circles into play bows, he started stiffening up, and then lunging and biting at their necks. First it was just on leash, and then it started happening at Trinity Bellwoods off-leash. He instigated a fight, chasing a French Bulldog. The Frenchie’s owner picked his dog up to shield him from Duke and when everyone was separated, we discovered that Duke caused a facial puncture to the Frenchie. Owners were mortified. We left the park in tears.

People gave us advice. Our dog walker loaned us his entire DVD set of Cesar Milan. To us, it sounded like a bunch of pseudo-science so after an episode or two, we tossed it. I bought a few books, one of which was so ridiculous, it had us eat food from his bowl before he could eat as part of a rank reduction program (Duke looked really sad, he loved food). Our vet (at the time, he was a terrible vet!) told us to pin him and make him submit. We tried that advice that night. Duke was a good boy – instead of biting us in the face, like most dogs would, he just cried. We stopped right away and felt like absolute trash.

I remember feeling extremely conflicted. I loved Duke so much, but he was causing us so much stress, and became a source of conflict between Hyedie and I. We argued over him and his reactions while on walks, and the dog fights at the park.

Good Advice

Fortunately, some of the advice we got was good! We met Julie Posluns at the park (now, the founder of Cat School), who at the time, was a full-time dog walker, and she taught us how to strengthen and reinforce Duke’s recall, so we could cue him to come back to us before he got in trouble. She also taught us how to teach him to fetch (give him a treat for bringing the ball back, duh!) which also gave him alternative behaviours to do while exercising at the dog park.

Around that time as well, the office staff at Who’s Walking Who referred us to Joan Weston, who we hired for a consult, where we learned about counter-conditioning and the value of a ziploc bag of boiled chicken breast. We also picked up Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas, so we could understand what Duke was saying non-verbally, and also Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell and Karen London– the first of many books that I would order from Dogwise.

Progress wasn’t linear, but there was no question that by learning more, and training properly, Duke was getting better. We also tackled his separation anxiety, in a systematic fashion, and we were able to leave him loose in the home without incident or destruction. Walks in King West became enjoyable again, and we were able to bring him back to two more levels of group classes.

(In the 2007 training video above, despite the fact that my marker timing was off, my mechanical skills were sloppy, and I was training Duke in an over-threshold state, he still improved!)

But, always wanting more for him, I kept learning, kept studying, and kept searching. Eventually that led to my decision to enroll in the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional program in 2009, and the rest is history.

Duke’s Legacy – My Origin Story

I founded When Hounds Fly so that pet parents who end up caring for dogs like Duke get the best information as fast as possible, and can avoid making the mistakes I made. This is why I wrote (and we give away for free!) our Manual for New Foster/Adopted Dog Owners. If I had read it the day I picked Duke up, I wouldn’t have put him in many of the situations that likely caused him to become dog aggressive in the first place.

And for those that feel that same conflict – unconditional love for their dog, but a ton of stress and frustration, and the resulting feelings of guilt, I want them to get the right information right away, and not waste even a single day reading about dominance, rank reduction, or aversive training methods. This is why I recorded (and give away for free) a 90 minute webinar on Leash Reactivity. I know it has helped already, because I get emails and DMs from people thanking me for releasing that information, and that it’s already helped make their walks more enjoyable again.

Our team has done thousands of 1-on-1 lessons to help reactive dog owners over the last decade, and the next step in our plan is to launch Reactive Dog group classes in Spring 2022. Reactive Dog group classes require a lot of space and resources, and When Hounds Fly finally has both the space and the people to make it happen. Duke would have really benefited from them.

Thank you Duke, for being patient with me. I knew nothing the day you entered my life. I did the best I could for you. I’d do it again in a heartbeat (and much better this time). I love you and miss you every day.

Duke the Beagle at 3 years old

Duke the Beagle at 14 years old

Becoming a Dog Trainer in 2021 – Why Now?

As I write this, Ontario is in the middle of battling the second wave of Covid-19, and we’re all under a Province-wide Stay at Home order. All of our dog training facilities are closed, and economists are suggesting to get ready for a “double-dip” recession (don’t expect a Spring economic recovery).

Despite that, I’m here to suggest now is the best time ever to consider switching careers and pursue pet dog training, whether it’s a side-hustle, a passion project, or all-in as full-time employment or starting your own business.

I started When Hounds Fly in the last recession – the 2008/2009 recession caused by the sub-prime mortgage collapse in the US. At the time, I worked in sales for a large US technology firm, and no one was hitting their quota, no one was buying, and the sales pipeline looked pretty grim. Hero one day, zero another, and I found myself unemployed late 2009.

A global recession was the perfect time to pursue dog training! Really! It was time to follow my passion. I had only owned a dog for about three years at the time (although I was forced to learn very fast, as my first dog was severely dog reactive and had severe separation anxiety!)

The same conditions that made it an easy decision for me to go all-in back in 2009 are almost the same now in 2021. Here are two similarities:

Pet Spending Increases During Recessions

In 2008, as people had less certainty in terms of earnings, spending, and budget, people held off on big purchases (expensive vacations and other luxuries) and instead put their spending on their pets.  And, rather than get cheaper with their pets (buying lower-cost food, reducing veterinary care, buying less toys and accessories), spending in these categories increased.

America’s Spending on Pets Continues to Increase (2010)

4 Reasons the Pandemic is a Boon for the Pet Industry (2020)

The “Dog Parent” Generation

Millennials continue to trend towards having less kids (or delaying), and in their place, more dogs. Survey after survey shows that pet dog owners get a lot of joy out of spending on toys, treats, clothing, and experiences for their pet dogs. An important part of that is investing time and money for enrichment of their dog’s quality of life – for which training and mental stimulation is a crucial part of the equation.

Pets replace progency for hesitant millenials (2019)


And finally, here are two trends that are unique to 2021 that make the pet industry poised for even more growth than previous recessions:

Work from Home/Work from Anywhere

A common reason for people to delay getting a dog is being away from home for long hours. Previously, that would altogether prevent people from getting a dog, or require considerable budget for daytime care options (typically dog walkers or dog daycares). With the shift to work from home/work from anywhere, this primary barrier is removed for many and has caused a major increase in the demand and purchasing of pet dogs.

This is the Future of Remote Work in 2021: Remote Work Becomes Permanent

How Covid Accelerated a 20 Year Surge in Demand for Pets

Reduced Travel

The second unique characteristic of 2020 and 2021 is the continued reduction in global travel/tourism due to the pandemic. If you’re not going to be travelling around the world for 4-6 weeks this year, or possibly the next two, for many, now’s the time to get that dog you’ve always wanted.


For all these reasons, I think it’s safe to say the demand for training and enrichment-related products and services for pet dogs is going to continue to grow into 2021 and beyond – and if you’ve been thinking about a career change, now’s the time to make the move.

Going back to 2009, when it was time for me to go all-in, I invested in taking the six-month long Dog Trainer Professional program with the Karen Pryor Academy to earn my KPA Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP) designation. Taking a comprehensive program is crucial, as too many self-taught dog trainers (that these days just watch YouTube videos) are missing crucial details that often make their advice ineffective, or harmful. It also acts as a signal to the market that you’re the real thing.

Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional Program in Toronto – Spring 2021

One thing that is very different than 2009 though – I am pleased to announce that the flagship Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program will be available locally here in Toronto! Back in 2009, you either had to travel to Ottawa or Upstate New York to take it. In 2020, as I joined the Karen Pryor Academy as a faculty member, we’ll now be running it out of When Hounds Fly starting Spring 2021.

I remember clear as day – it was around the completion of Workshop 2 that I began looking for commercial space for our first location – which we still have to this day at 1108 Dundas Street West – so that we’d open roughly as I was completing the Karen Pryor Academy program.

Since that time, I have seen countless pet dog owners in group classes, or privately 1-on-1. I’ve helped dozens of shy puppies come of their shell, helped many struggling owners get a handle on their rambunctious teenagers, and helped lost, desperate owners struggling with some very serious issues get some relief and see success.

I haven’t always been able to help everyone have a successful outcome, but I know that the vast majority of times, I’ve been able to help achieve our mission of strengthening relationships between a dog and their owner.

Over ten years after the start of my journey, I am excited about the opportunity to pay it forward and help the next generation of positive reinforcement dog trainers!

The KPA DTP program is for dog trainers that wish to take their clicker training knowledge to the next level. Veterinary staff (vet techs and veterinarians alike) and pet care professionals (dog walkers, dog daycare staff) with a strong interest in clicker training also benefit from this program.

About the Author

Andre Yeu is the founder of When Hounds Fly. He is one of only two Canadians to be part of the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy Faculty.

In Spring 2021, he’ll be teaching Karen Pryor Academy’s flagship Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program in Toronto. The DTP program is regarded by many as the gold standard for dog training in the industry.

My Dog is Bored and is Driving Me Crazy – Enrichment During Social Distancing / COVID-19

By Dr. Sarah Shapiro-Ward

Enrichment describes all the activities our dogs do which fulfill their mental, social and physical needs. Toronto dogs are typically accustomed to getting their social time through daycare, dog walkers, playdates and dog parks. Physical needs are typically met via hiking, playing fetch or walking around Toronto’s streets and green spaces. Mental enrichment comes from interacting with their humans, solving puzzles and exploring their environment through their noses. With many of these activities curtailed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, what can we do to ensure our dogs cope?

 

Nosework

Sniffing is one of the most mentally enriching activities for our dogs – after all their sense of smell is around 40 times stronger than ours is! It may be counter-intuitive, but walking more slowly and providing your dog with plenty of time to explore scents with their noses is more enriching than walking briskly. Get the most out of your limited outdoor time by allowing your dog time to sniff!

There are also plenty of ways to get your dog’s nose working at home. You can take a formal scent detection class with us, for example.

Alternatively, try playing the “find it” game:

Level 1 (easy): Put your dog in her crate or have somebody hold her while you hide several treats around the house. As you open the crate door cue “find it!” and sit back as your dog uses their nose to search out the treats. If they are struggling after 30 seconds, offer a hint by pointing to the treat. 

Level 2 (intermediate): Ask your dog for a down-stay out of sight while you hide the treats. Cue “find it!” to release her from the stay.

Level 3 (advanced): Conceal treats in challenging locations – under the doormat, behind the sofa cushion, on a raised shelf – get creative!

(PS: We’re launching our Scent Detection class for Virtual delivery very soon!)

Food Puzzles

Food Puzzles are a well-known way of providing some mental enrichment for your dog. These are toys with compartments for concealed food – your dog must figure out how to roll, knock, pull or push the toy so that it dispenses the food. Unfortunately, many of our dogs figure out their food puzzles in record time, and what was a mental challenge quickly becomes just another slow feeder. Keep your food puzzles fresh and interesting by mixing them up!

Training

Training is one of the best ways to keep your dog mentally stimulated, and it has the benefit of improving your dog’s behaviour! Consider replacing lost exercise time with a dedicated routine of training to keep your dog busy and challenged. Work on your dog’s basics by joining us for Foundation Skills Virtual classes (more information: https://sites.google.com/whenhoundsfly.com/virtual) or consider taking a more advanced class with us. During this time, we are allowing anyone to audit our classes on a Pay-What-You-Feel basis (and if your situation is that you can’t pay, that’s ok!)

Set yourself specific training goals and celebrate with your pup when you reach them! Here are some training goal ideas:

  •       30 second down stay while I retrieve the tug rope from the other room
  •       Verbal cue differentiation: Dog lies down on “down” cue and sits on “sit” cue without mixing them up
  •       Recall from the other end of the house
  •       Leave-it, treat placed 10 cm away on the ground for 10 seconds
  •       Teach a new trick! E.g. roll over, play dead, fetch my TV remote, sit pretty etc

Dog Training During Social Distancing Covid 19 Toronto Shake a Paw

If you’re stuck for training ideas or struggling to meet your goals, we’d be delighted to help you via our 30 minute phone consultation service: https://www.whenhoundsfly.com/phone-consultation/
or Virtual In-Home Lessons https://www.whenhoundsfly.com/foundation-skills-in-home/

Canine Conditioning

Canine conditioning is a collection of exercises designed to increase your dog’s fitness, strength, body awareness (proprioception), and co-ordination. Many of these exercises can be done at home with some basic equipment.

Cavaletti poles: These are raised poles for your dog to step over at a walk or trot. This helps your dog develop a balanced gait and good coordination.

Balance Games: Teaching your dog to balance on wobbly surfaces or small platforms can strengthen muscles and improve body awareness.

Hind-end awareness: These exercises are designed to get your dog moving their hind quarters independently of their front legs. Two popular challenges are: Targeting a platform with rear paws only, commonly taught in dog agility to improve Dog Walk / A frame performance; and circling around a front-paw perch which can be used to teach heel position as shown in this video (Andre & Petey). Both exercises are excellent for body awareness and coordination.

There are plenty of other conditioning exercises out there to keep you & your dog busy!

Engagement Games

Engagement games foster our dog’s relationship with us through having fun together! These games include Fetch and Tug of War, but did you know there are lots of other engagement games to try?

Hide ‘n Seek: Hide from your dog in another room, closet, under the bed etc. Call them once and wait…. If they successfully find you, reward them with praise and a delicious treat! For an easy version of this, work with a partner to hold your dog as you hide. If your dog is more advanced, try putting them in a down-stay instead.

Come and Go: In this game, encourage your dog to run through your legs! Recall your dog, then toss a treat between your legs. Make the game harder by adding distance or more than one person! Here’s Stephanie and Mila demonstrating the game: 

Chase Me: Many of our dogs love to be chased, but we don’t encourage chasing your dog as this can adversely affect your recall. Did you know that chasing can be just as fun for your dog the other way around? Call your dog to your side and run away! When your dog catches up, praise and reward them. Playing chase-me this way around can actually improve your dog’s recall abilities!


In summary, with the requirements of social distancing, now’s the time to invest more in training and enrichment for your dog. Try some of these suggestions, or join us in the virtual classroom! After all, your dog’s can’t curl up with a book or binge watch a series on Netflix – it’s up to us!

 

Photo Credit: @bearthehappydog

Scientific Consensus in Dog Training

In our field, there is consensus amongst those that study the science, that aversive training methods are harmful, and that we should all endeavor to use as much positive reinforcement as possible when teaching our animals.

It is a myth that there is “a divide” amongst experts when it comes to training our dogs. Because if you look at what the science says, look at what the research says, and what the evidence says, there is no debate.

Your Facts are Just Your Opinion

“I don’t believe in science, it’s just your opinion!” – in 1920

“I don’t believe in climate change, it’s just a theory!”

“I don’t believe in evolution, it’s just a belief!”

“I don’t believe in using positive reinforcement, its just one of many ways to train a dog!”

What needs to be made clear, and in firm language, is that there are hard facts that dictate our bias towards using positive reinforcement. If you understand these facts, then the path is clear.

Here Are Some Facts

Fact 1:  Dogs trained with negative reinforcement show more stress-related behaviors during training, and have higher levels of cortisol in their saliva (Reward-based training group dogs showed no changes in cortisol), and when testing for mood after the fact, the more punishment a dog has received in the negative reinforcement group, the more pessimistic it is.  (Vieira de Castro AC, Fuchs D, Pastur S, et al. Does training method matter?: Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare.)

Schematic for the Cognitive Bias Test in Viera de Castro’s Study

Positive Reinforcement-based training achieves better results and also does not cause elevated stress or anxiety. So, if you’re choosing how to teach your dog to sit, stay, and walk nice on a leash, why wouldn’t you choose the method that is both effective but also brings joy to your dog and doesn’t make them depressed?

Fact 2:  When using confrontational or aversive methods to train aggressive pets, veterinary researchers have found that most of these pets will continue to be aggressive (Herron, Frances S. Shofer and Ilana R. Reisner)

Dogs that are aggressive towards people or other animals are usually acting out of fear, so the science suggests we should use systematic desensitization, counter-conditioning, and the differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviours. We teach dogs how to feel at ease in situations, without the threats of a prong collar or shock collar.

The science supports our practice as well – We setup educational environments to avoid triggering the fight-or-flight response. Learners (dogs included, of course) learn best when their parasympathetic nervous system is active (the rest and digest response) – this cannot be possible under the threat of a leash correction or shock.

The claim that “red zone” or “aggressive” dogs cannot be helped unless you use harsh training techniques is perhaps the most harmful of all of the incorrect information out there today.

Neuroscience dictates that our learners do best when they feel safe, so why involve training tools that are proven to cause elevated stress?

Logical Fallacies

One of the benefits of working with people who take an interest in science is they usually understand how to construct logical arguments. On the flipside, those who operate “intuitively” usually are very difficult to talk to because they lack the ability to construct a cohesive argument.

Usually, what you are presented with is a lot of logical fallacies and some pseudo-science:

“OMG you would rather have the dog die than give a single harsh correction?” (No, those aren’t the only options usually, thank you Mr. False Dilemma)

“I’ve saved X-number of dogs using e-collars, they are lifesaving” (Thank you, Ms. Anecdotal Evidence, I was also spanked as a child, I turned out OK…)

Credibility Should Be More Than Number of Instagram Followers

Rachael speaking to Dr. Jill Sackman, Veterinary Behaviorist, at 2019 seminar on effective behaviour modification techniques and psychopharmacology

At When Hounds Fly, we don’t rely on tradition, intuition, one’s personal experience alone, or other unproven methods. Our approach relies on scientific evidence for guidance and decision making. With the proliferation of knowledge that is available, one can’t be expected to know everything about everything, therefore, we learn from people who:

  • Have Ph.Ds in relevant fields (Psychology, Neuroscience, Biology, Veterinary Medicine)
  • Have written published papers or books on the subject
  • Have received training, supervision, or endorsement from others with a similar background
  • Have credentials that are difficult to obtain and demonstrate a high level of knowledge (i.e. a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, requires one to have a doctoral degree, usually veterinary medicine, plus five years of experience working in applied animal behavior)

Our team with Kathy Sdao, applied animal behaviorist with 30 years of experience teaching animals ranging from marine mammals to pet dogs

 

Guest Presenting at 100-Level Psychology Class at University of Toronto

The problem with the world we live in today is that the largest distributors of information – Google (and YouTube), Facebook (and Instagram), and Twitter, are for-profit organizations that generate revenue by keeping users addicted to their platforms.

On Instagram, a dog rescue group with 10,000 followers has more clout than a Veterinary Behaviorist with only 1000 followers, and when the rescue’s social media manager, who relies on intuition and anecdotal evidence only, suggests that “Balanced Training, using all training tools equally, is the best way”, that makes it seem like there’s a debate, when in fact there should be none. But, in the eyes of Facebook and Instagram’s algorithm… it’s fit for publishing and promoting on your feed, and there’s no mechanism for verifying whether it’s the truth.

My wish for 2020 is that proponents of aversive training methods be relegated to the same category as anti-vaxxers, climate-change deniers, flat-earthers, or Holocaust deniers. Just look at the science, and it’s clear that their messages do not belong on the same footing as practices like ours which are evidence-based.

Do your own research, look into the credibility of the presenter, and where the evidence comes from – and do not assume that what appears on your social media feed is truth, because some of it is probably harmful or just plain incorrect.

How to Select a Dog Walker, Daycare, Groomer

Dogs in Dog Walker Van

Choosing a walker, groomer, or daycare for your dog can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many options out there, and because these professions aren’t regulated, anyone could call themselves an expert. The wrong choice could be bad news for the safety and well-being of your dog. From a dog trainer’s perspective, behavioural issues can develop or worsen if the dog is regularly exposed to a daycare, grooming, or walking experience that is less than ideal.

Along with reading reviews and trusting your gut, it’s important to also screen potential dog care services with some questions. We’ve compiled a handy list here of some questions we think are important from a behavioural soundness point of view. Feel free to pick and choose the questions you feel are most important, or go ahead and ask them all!

What are your staffing ratios?

Tons of dogs per staff member means a higher chance of things getting out of control, and fewer hands on deck if there is ever an emergency. For dog walkers in Toronto, the maximum is 6 dogs at a time. For daycares, while it does depend on the facility and specific dogs, one person watching 20 dogs is going to be risky.

What are your temperament assessments like?

The doggie friends your dog is spending time with at daycare or on walks will have an effect on his/her behaviour at home. If temperament assessments aren’t thorough, or aren’t even done at all, you might want to cross them off the list. An appropriate temperament assessment would tell the staff about your dog’s behaviour around strangers, other dogs, and maybe other stressors (loud sounds, etc).

What kind of behaviour could get a dog ejected?

A dog’s dangerous behaviour should never be tolerated in a daycare or walk environment. If a dog is aggressive or constantly in a state of high arousal, they should be transferred to a more appropriate service. Daycares and walkers should have a specific set of guidelines that regulate when a dog is bumped out of group walks or playtime.

What would you do if…. What is your procedure when….

Some good situations to ask about would be medical emergencies (“do you have a first aid kit?”), dog fights, dog gets loose, and dog “misbehaving”. This last one is particularly important – make sure you check with staff about what kind of dog training they ascribe to. Aversive training techniques, such as leash pops and squirt bottles, can leave you with a dog displaying deep-seated behaviour issues. The only situation where these kinds of methods would be reasonable to use would be in a life-threatening situation (a serious dog fight, or a biting dog that won’t let go).

What kind of training do your staff members receive?

Appropriate staff training is essential. Depending on the service, this could include basic first aid, dog fight interruption, dog body language, and basic behaviour theory. Policies around safety precautions should also be common knowledge to all staff members. For dog walkers, this could include safety straps on leashes, locking carabiners, and double attachment points.

Can I visit your facility?

In the case of groomers and daycares, a clean and tidy facility is a good sign. For daycares, facilities should have enough space for the number of dogs they take on at any one time. Crowded facilities increase the risk of accidents. Dogs should also have appropriate spaces to withdraw from the action if they need to (ex, a crate). Fencing and crates should be secure and free of any sharp edges.

 

While this list is in no way exhaustive, it should give you a good idea of the aspects of service providers that may have an impact on your dog’s behavioural wellness. You may have to shop around a bit for the right fit, but I promise it’s worth it!

(Photo Credit: A Couple of Mutts Dog Walking)

 

About the Author:

Claire is an Associate Instructor with When Hounds Fly Dog Training in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in the dog training world since 2015 and has loved every second of it.

Claire is the founder of Scout Me A Dog, a consulting service dedicated specifically to helping potential dog owners on the breed selection, breeder selection, and purchasing process.

Ecovacs Deebot N79 and N79S – Red Light and Four Beeps Error

We own a total of three Ecovacs Deebot N79 / N79S robot vacuum cleaners and we use them daily at When Hounds Fly.

As a dog training school, upwards of 30 different dogs may come per day for classes. It’s a LOT of fur and dander and lint and sand and dust!

Despite this, our N79s were giving us great service for many months until suddenly they all started giving the “Red Auto Light / Four Beep” error.

They would run for about 2 minutes and suddenly stop dead in its tracks and give off the error.

Initially our research showed it was a battery issue. So, we spend weeks playing with charging dock positions, cleaning the charge contacts, etc. and nothing seemed to stick.

After a while I had a guess that it was due to hair/fur accumulation in the beater brush and after giving it a thorough cleaning, I was really happy to see the robots perform again good as new.

All it takes is removal of four tiny phillips screws (Update on 6/20/2019 – You don’t actually have to unscrew the clean that piece, it’s not critical), and a flathead screw driver to help with removing the front wheel. I shot a video of me cleaning one of our Deebot N79 vacuums for you to see.

Hope this helps and keeps your Deebot working for many years to come and out of the landfill!

*Update on 6/20/2019* – One of our three Deebots actually stopped working, even after thorough cleaning. I logged a ticket with Ecovacs support and after going through some basic troubleshooting, they authorized me to send it back for a warranty replacement. But, before going through that hassle, honestly, just try thoroughly cleaning your Deebot and you may be surprised!*

Is my dog playing, bullying, or fighting?

In our Puppy Socialization classes, one of the lessons we try to teach new puppy owners is how to recognize the signs of appropriate and healthy play between dogs.

On one hand, we have some owners that are “helicopter parents” and at the onset of anything more physical than polite sniffing, they feel like their dogs are in mortal danger.

On the otherhand, we have some owners who believe their dog who is bullying or over-aroused is just playing with good intentions, and we are being too uptight. “Let dogs be dogs, let them work it out”, they’d say.

As instructors, our job is to either help those who are worried feel safe that their dog is having a good time – yes that includes facial and ear nips and tumbling and wrestling.

Our job is also to identify when a dog is getting overaroused, or is *not* picking up on the cutoff (please stop!) signals of other dogs and to interrupt or time-out.

To help our students (and anyone, anywhere!) we commissioned Hyedie Hashimoto to create an infographic. Please download a copy and print it off for your dog training facility, dog daycare, dog park – wherever it might be useful!

PDF: whf_appropriateplay

PNG: whf_approriateplay

In Memory of Sandy

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Gary and Bill, past students of ours…

Hi Andre,

Back at the end of February 2017, you may recall, you came over to our house to help us with Sandy, whom we rescued in November. He was a terrified little guy – frightened of everything and everyone.

Sadly we lost our Sandy on Tuesday November 21st from his congestive heart failure. We are heart-broken … but Sandy left this world a very confident dog; his fears, for the most part, a thing of the past. No more barking at cars, noises, other dogs or people. In large part we have you to thank for this- for teaching us how best to help him.

As we now reflect on the final year of his life he spent with us, we wanted you to know how much we appreciated all your help and guidance with Sandy. And we know, Sandy thanks you too.

Woofs,
Gary, Bill & Joey

Gary and Bill adopted Sandy just a year ago at the ripe old age of 9 years. In the year they cared for him, they not only gave him a loving home but also the gift of confidence. He used to bark and lunge at any dog or person on the street. But thanks to their hard work and commitment to desensitization and counter-conditioning, by this past summer, Sandy was able to take classes with us and meet people and dogs at the school and in their neighbourhood.

Please consider not only adopting and rescuing your next dog, but also consider taking a second look at the older ones too. Of all the dogs in need of homes, they need our compassion the most. They often gave their unconditional love to their owners only to find themselves abandoned in their final years. So, like Gary and Bill, let’s help and make a senior dog’s final years the best ones.

Gratitude and My Next Challenge

I started When Hounds Fly Dog Training in January 2010 as an experiment to see whether dog training services – specifically, centered around Clicker Training, could become a full-time career for me.

At the time, most of the dog training schools operating in Toronto were part-time businesses, where the instructors drew their primary income from either white-collar day jobs, or made the majority of their income through other dog-related services (such as dog walking).

Fast forward to 2017 and When Hounds Fly now has four employees (if you include myself), three of whom work full time, doing dog training and behaviour consulting. So, the experiment paid off!

Our Past Instructors

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in growing this company is finding qualified people that met my high standards for instructors. In the early days, I was extremely lucky and qualified people found me. My early part-time instructors came already knowledgeable, already experienced, no training or skills development required.

Karen Pryor Visits When Hounds Fly
2011 – Julie Posluns, Mirkka Koivusalo, and Emily Fisher, my first group of talented instructors

Rachael Johnston
2012 – Rachael Johnston joined us (And she’s been with us since)

Alexa Mareschal
2013 – Alexa Mareschal joined us briefly – she had worked in the US at the head office of PetCo on their national training office. She’s a lawyer now in Salt Lake City…

2017 – Sara Russell joined our team early this year, already completing her KPA-CTP and coming with years of experience in the field.

By 2014, I realized that the odds of just finding qualified people who would apply for either part or full-time positions as instructors were extremely low. So, I turned my attention towards helping mentor and coach people who were passionate about our mission, so that in the end, they could hopefully be instructors at our school.

2014-2016 – Verena Schleich and Katie Hood became instructors at When Hounds Fly while volunteering and assisting classes and completing their Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner programs.

Katie and Verena were the first two people that I can say that I taught everything I knew to. All the insight and experience I had accumulated to date, I tried my best to impart to them to help them become as complete as possible. They have both since moved away from Toronto and I know they are out there doing excellent work in the field.

2017 – Tim Alamenciak

2017 – Kelsey Edwards

From 2016 onwards, I’ve been focusing my energies on personally developing talented people to help meet the needs of our community.

In the past, I left the formal education to organizations such as the Karen Pryor Academy, Pat Miller Peaceable Paws, or Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers.

Now, having spent years working with people and mentoring them, my goal is to transition towards developing qualified dog training professionals in-house.

Tim Alameciak had volunteered for nearly a year as a classroom assistant, and his own quest for knowledge and self-study gave him the foundational knowledge needed to be an instructor for our team.

And, most recently, Kelsey Edwards, another one of our year-long volunteers is next. Through our own internal training workshops, 1-on-1 coaching sessions, and guided self-study and reading lists, she leveled up to a point where her knowledge rivals that of those who graduate from recognized dog trainer certification programs.

Classroom Assistants and Volunteers

Over the years, we have had many people inquire about volunteering at our school to gain experience. Some stay as few as a couple of weeks and then stop showing up. Others have been extremely committed (and through hard work, ended up being instructors here).

In 2012 we had a Working Holiday Visa visitor from Japan, Megumi Yamanaka, volunteer as a classroom assistant for a year( Unfortunately I never got a picture with her). She is teaching dog training back home now.


In recent years, Monisa Nandi, Stephanie Tran, and Megan Taylor have volunteered as classroom assistants with us – long enough for us to say that they’ve learned a lot and we’ve trusted them with different aspects of teaching and working directly with our clients.

Claire Kilburn at Paws in the Park

And, Claire Kilburn volunteered with us for over a year while completing high school. She’s studying at McGill now, but works remotely as our admin assistant, and this last summer, she had the opportunity to teach both in the classroom and also be our representative and instructor at Paws in the Park.

There are some people who have volunteered with us for a month or two, once a week and now go around saying they apprenticed under me, which is a big misrepresentation (the first few months are just cleaning up messes and filling up water bowls… it’s a long time before I let people even answer simple questions or speak in class.

These days, so many people don’t stick with things or put in the hard work. Everyone wants shortcuts…

My Next Challenge

 

While I am still very much involved directly in teaching (both group classes, and private lessons), I am transitioning towards skills development for our team – both our instructors and our volunteer classroom assistants. I’m getting good at it, and in the end,  our community will benefit from a greater number of highly qualified dog training professionals.

To our committed volunteers, past and present – I wanted to express my gratitude to you and also complement you for your commitment to the process. Thank you!!!

 

 

Sincerely,

Andre Yeu