Can Doggy Day Care or ‘Pack Walks’ Do more harm than good?

By Angela Pitman © Dec 2018


There has been a massive increase in the business of Dog Day Care and ‘Pack Walks’ over the last few years, but is this the right thing for your dog?

We would need to look at several things before coming to a decision – certainly, your dog may bound into a Day Care establishment or into the car or van of the Dog Walker, much like a child bounds into a theme park, while I appreciate that dogs are not children, the logic in the behaviour can be very similar in some respects.

How many people take their dogs to Day Care while they are out at work and when their dog has returned home again, are they so exhausted that they sleep all evening – peaceful and quiet, marvellous you may think, but then ask yourself – ‘who does my dog prefer to spend time with? Me or Day Care/Dog Walker? Also, are they emotionally drained rather than mentally relaxed?

When you go out at the weekend with your dog, do they want to run up to every dog they see? After all, this is what happens through the week, will they come straight back to you when you call them or have they started to ignore you? Does the other dog or owner appreciate this unwanted attention? They are not being rude, but possibly their dog is elderly/blind/deaf/not good with other dogs for some reason, seeing a dog bounding up to their dog, albeit with friendly intent, can startle or scare both dog and owner or even undo work that has been started for rehabilitation, what if the other dog is an Assistance Dog, highly trained to do a specific task for their owner, the Assistance dog will have been trained to ignore distractions but that can be impossible in the event of a boisterous dog.

Your dog’s attention on you could have been undone by attending the wrong Day Care/`Pack Walks’ on a regular basis.

An occasional visit is fine, but a 3-4 times weekly occurrence can cause your dog to find you less interesting, both at home and while you are out with them, I, personally, would be most disappointed if my dog ignored me and went to everyone else and their dog in exactly the same way parents do if their child runs up to their childminder and gives them a hug leaving Mum and Dad standing alone!

We are often ‘guilt tripped’ into believing that our dogs must have these regular meet ups – ‘we should not leave them alone for X amount of hours, but what if you go shopping/need a sudden hospital visit/called into work unexpectedly/ do you panic and rush the dog into a daycare or do you ensure he/she has had a walk, eaten, have access to water and leave them to settle while you are out and then return to find that they have simply slept? Not so many years ago, dogs were exercised in the morning, then we went out to do our shopping/do chores or go to work, the dog just relaxed at home and was then walked again once we got back in with longer walks on days off, there were very few behaviour issues and the dogs were happy, relaxed and greeted dogs politely.

With regards to sleep, dogs actually need more sleep than we believe, the average length of time a dog sleeps ranges from 12-20 hours depending on their age; puppies and older dogs may need as much as 20hrs to either support growth or because of reduced energy levels, size and breed of a dog can influence a sleep pattern, a large breed will sleep more than a smaller breed, often up to 18hrs! , it would be more of a concern if a dog doesn’t sleep as much as they used to as it could indicate a health issue or stress, so a full day of almost on stop activity can become a problem for your dog.

The time spent awake is spent foraging for food, looking for a mate, (okay, we don’t want to encourage more puppies) and reading their ‘pee mails’ by sniffing about to find out who has been visiting during the night, some of this can be mimicked on a walk with us while we take our dogs out, for foraging, try hiding a favourite scent article or soft toy for them to find and then play with them for a few minutes before hiding it again, you can try dropping it behind you as you walk and then send you dog back to find it again.

It is also worth considering, does your dog actually enjoy it or are they simply putting up with it? I am regularly sent photos from across the country of groups of anything between 10 to 24 dogs, some dogs with muzzles on or yellow bandanas with ‘Give me Space’ or ‘Nervous’ printed on it, Dog Daycare is not the solution for a reactive or nervous dog, is the dog ‘sorted’ or is the behaviour being pushed even deeper?

One shy dog does not become confident, they simply shut down, a reactive dog doesn’t suddenly accept all dogs, they just can’t take on a large group of dogs, take them back out of that environment and, out on their usual walk, there is a strong chance that they will still react to individual dogs, you then go back home feeling frustrated or a failure.

Are you being told that your dog will be kept occupied throughout the day? Are they going to be in small groups? Is there somewhere for dogs to go for some quiet time that is safe?

There are some, but very few, excellent Dog Day Care establishments, that have a good staff to dog ratio, at least 1 staff member to 4 dogs! Activities for the dogs that are structured in small groups

How do the staff cope with emergencies, (fights/injuries/sudden health issues)? What if a dog walker is walking 4-6 dogs and allowing them to run around on a large park, field or beach and one dog suddenly becomes ill, do they help the unwell dog or try to gather the rest of the dogs together and secure them first?

What, if any, canine specific qualifications does the owner and/or staff of the day care or dog walking business have? Very often, a degree in Animal Behaviour only has one module throughout a three year degree course that covers the domestic canine and contrary to some daycare/walkers websites, there is no BA degree for animal work, the comment “I’ve had dogs all of my life” or being a “very nice person” is not a qualification.

Do they recognise the difference between inappropriate vs appropriate play? What ratio of play to rest do the dogs have? What age mix are the dogs? Are there any dogs wearing muzzles? Unless the dog with the muzzle is wearing it because it eats everything around it, it may be wearing it because it has issues with other dogs and it is on as a safety feature for other dogs but how does that dog feel, it is wearing a muzzle and is forced to mingle with dogs it may not be comfortable with, but it has no option but to put up with it.

Has your dog been injured by “someone else’s dog” on the field? Sadly, this is a common issue but we only have that person’s word for it.

How many photos are put up daily on their social media page? While taking care of other people’s dogs, I would want their attention to be 100% on the dogs and not the camera shots, even if there are two people walking 8-10 dogs, there is still a risk of something being missed.

Pack Walks’ look great on television, groups of 6-12 (sometimes even more) dogs all being walked together, seemingly in harmony, but by observing body language and avoidance behaviours tell a very different story, a canine social group in the wild, or as street dogs, are naturally formed, they are not forced together after a brief meeting where they may have been overwhelmed by the other dogs, put into a van with 4-10 other dogs and driven off where they may or may not be let off their lead to run about.

While some dogs may cope well in this sort of situation, equally, many do not, and the signals seen by some of the dogs in these photos will not change a dog’s behaviour for the better and make them accept other dogs, nor will it mean that your dog will no longer pull on the lead.

Almost every behaviourist across the country, has seen a massive increase in loss of recall, jumping up at strangers, pestering other dogs, lead frustration and lead reactivity.

How well ventilated are the vans? Do they have air conditioning or is cool air reliant on open windows while driving, if your dog is the first of six to be collected, how long is it in the van or car until it reaches the destination? Possibly 10 minutes between each dog, 6 dogs collected, that is 1 hour! If there is no air conditioning, that is quite a time for your dog to be in a vehicle with just the windows open slightly!

Walk with a friend with their dog, this is still socialising but in a much more natural and polite manner.

Checking out ‘pee mails’ when out with you, don’t make the walk a route march, allow sniffing of gate posts, lamp posts, shrubbery, this is important for a dog as they gain so much information by doing this, it is also more mentally tiring as they also have to process all the information they have gleaned, if their brain is tired, you will have a calmer and much happier dog who looks forward to going out with you.

You chose to bring your lovely companion into your home, enjoy your time with them.

The Great Muzzle Debate

John the Lurcher happily wearing his muzzle. Photo by Paula Slyusarenko

The world of dog training and behaviour has come so far in recent years, yet some valuable pieces of equipment still have such a negative image, I am referring to the basket muzzle. In my opinion every dog should be trained to be comfortable wearing a muzzle because you never know when one might be needed.

Years ago, before I was qualified and I knew nothing, I had a German Shepherd called Jake. He was very clever and very cheeky, I took him training every week and he knew how to do loads of things so why would he need to be muzzle trained, oh my goodness what a mistake that was. Jake started to get ear infections which meant frequent visits to the vets, can you see where this story is going! So during one visit the vet asked for Jake to be muzzled, no problem I thought as he was so obedient – I could not have been more wrong if I tried. I didn’t take in to consideration the strange environment, strange man and pain. Jake decided that he really didn’t want to wear a muzzle and wrestling on the floor with the vet was actually quite a good game, to say it was stressful for me is an understatement I never wanted put myself or Jake through that again so the muzzle training began.

Here is a link to a video by Chirag Patel on how to muzzle train a dog

So lets have a look at some muzzle myths shall we.

Muzzle Myth 1.

Only dogs with a bite history wear muzzles.

Dogs wear muzzles for numerous reasons. They may have a bite history, so the dog wearing a muzzle means they have a responsible owner. The dog may be scared of other dogs or children or just wary of people and has a tendency to react. In this case if the dog is wearing a muzzle it keeps everybody safe and the person walking the dog is less stressed and this relays to the dog. The dog may have a history of chasing other animals or birds and wearing a muzzle means they can go off lead and everything is safe, this does not mean that you don’t have to work on a solid recall though. The dog may have a habit of eating things off of the floor, a muzzle will stop them doing this while teaching a dog to leave food is worked on. Lets not forget the exempted dogs who by law have to wear a muzzle and be on a lead and these dogs may not have any behavioural issues at all.

Muzzle Myth 2.

My dog is friendly so why would I need a muzzle.

Although your dog may be friendly most of the time if they are in pain things can change. I know if I am in pain I get really grumpy, just ask my husband, but I can communicate where the pain is which a dog cant, so they may protect themselves the only way they know how so a muzzled dog can get treatment and everyone is safe.

Muzzle Myth 3.

A dog cant breathe properly or drink with a muzzle on.

This is true with certain styles of muzzles, but I would never recommend these muzzles. A basket muzzle such as a Baskerville muzzle or a Baskerville Ultra are great. The dog can drink, breathe and still take treats while wearing them.

So hopefully that is a few muzzle myths busted.

So lets join together and get rid of the stigma that muzzles have, don’t be worried what other people think if your dog is muzzled these people don’t share your home (hopefully) but your dog does so lets encourage people to train their dogs to be comfortable wearing a muzzle even if they never need it.

By Sue Lefevre G.Dip ABM, MICB, CAB ICAN

Dog Training: Its not opinion, its science

By Tori Ganino, BS, CDBC, CPDT-KA

As a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, I talk with many people about different methods used to train their dogs.  Being a trainer that works on scientifically supported methods of building confidence, creating replacement behaviors, and decreasing anxiety and aggression with reward-based training, I am firmly against any use of force and intimidation. I often hear the following comment from people: “everyone has their opinion about how to train dogs.”

I want to address this comment.  An opinion is something that is supported by weak, or often, no evidence at all.  A scientific fact is one that has a vast amount of supporting evidence.  This evidence has been proven in numerous peer-reviewed, controlled, studies and experiments.

Psychology 101 teaches students about B.F. Skinner’s work with Operant Conditioning and the four quadrants.  Don’t get overwhelmed; I am going explain and discuss just two of the four quadrants introduced in the college course here, so you will have a better understanding about the opinions vs. facts that this blog post is focusing on, and then apply the principles to two different case studies in the next blog post.  If you would like to learn more about all four quadrants and how they are used in dog training, comment on this blog and I will be happy to write another post about it.

Operant conditioning refers to Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, and Negative Punishment.  We are focusing on Positive Reinforcement and Positive Punishment. Before going any further, it is crucial to understand what each word in these terms means:

  • “Positive” means that something is added. Keep in mind that “positive” doesn’t necessarily mean something is good.
  • “Reinforcement” refers to the behavior being more likely to occur again in the future.
  • “Punishment” refers to the behavior being less likely to occur again in the future.

Let’s start with positive reinforcement, the area where my training and behavior modification work focuses.  Positive reinforcement is where something is added, or given to the dog, to make the behavior more likely to happen again — for example, providing a dog with a treat for coming when called.

Positive punishment refers to adding something to the dog so that he will no longer practice the unwanted behavior in the future. Shock collars prong collars, and choke chains are examples of this.  The dog wants to avoid the conditions that created the pain, so he is less likely to perform the behavior that leads to it.

So how does opinion come into play with this blog?  It does when people argue about positive reinforcement (providing a cookie to reward a job well done so the dog will do it again) being better or worse than positive punishment (applying a shock to a dog so that it will stop a behavior and be less likely to do it again) and what is better for the dog.  When concerning a dog’s emotional well-being, science says that positive reinforcement is that way to go.  The dog is rewarded for its efforts and never afraid of being hurt physically or emotionally.

However, many that support shock, prong, and choke collar training (positive punishment) say that there are no harmful effects on the dog. They will say that the shock only tickles the dog, the prong is just annoying, and the choke does not cut off enough air to cause pain.

But how can that be?  By definition, these punishments must be harsh enough so that the dog will not repeat the behavior that caused these tools’ use to happen again. If they were merely annoying, then the dog would easily ignore them and repeat the unwanted behavior.  For positive punishment to work, the punishment must be strong enough for the dog to want to avoid.  Pain is something that every living creature wants to avoid.

So, when someone tells me that it is an opinion when I say that these collars and the correction methods used with them are harmful to the dog, I tell them that it is a scientific fact.  Not only is there physical pain, but there is also emotional pain associated with its use.  On the other hand, positive reinforcement training helps dogs to learn what you want, and it helps them to do so while enjoying the process.

The most prominent science-based dog training and behavior modification professional organizations also support the use of positive reinforcement over positive punishment.  The International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Certification Council for Professional Dog Training, International Canine Behaviourists, and the International Companion Animal Network are just a few.

Tori Ganino CDBC, CPDT-KA is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed through the CCPDT, and a member of International Canine Behaviourists (ICB) and the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN). She owns Calling All Dogs located in Batavia, NY where she teaches group classes and private lessons for obedience and behavior modification.

You can find out more about Tori from her website

What is a Balanced Trainer

Written by Lyn Fleet, MICB MICAN

Feb 2019


lyn fleet image

There is an increasing and worrying trend for people to promote themselves as a ‘balanced dog trainer’. A fairly innocuous phrase you might think, particularly when seeing the word balanced. Something that is balanced means of equal measure, not loaded one way or another, doesn’t it?

A balanced trainer will tell you that they use rewards and punishment to train a dog. If you ask them to elaborate they say that just as you have to let a child know when it’s done wrong and punish them appropriately, a dog also has to be punished so it realises it’s done something wrong. All sounds logical so far doesn’t it?

Punishment means different things to different people. You may think that confiscating your child’s iPhone for a week is sufficient punishment or telling your dog off when it has eaten your Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin shoes. However, a balanced trainer will most often use severe physical pain as the punishment, by means of a choke chain, prong collar or an electric shock collar, euphemistically called an educator collar.

lyn fleet image lyn fleet image

You may have seen these methods used on a TV show or perhaps at a local dog club. You are assured that this doesn’t hurt a dog because they don’t feel pain like we do. Really! If it didn’t cause pain and distress it wouldn’t have the desired effect.

They will emphatically tell you that this method is the only way to cure serious problem behaviours, particularly when dealing with cases of aggression. No really it isn’t!!!!

To the casual observer they will often see instant and seemingly miraculous results. If you knew that teachers at your child’s school used physical abuse to stop unwanted behaviours you would be mortified. Yes it works but it’s not ethical. I could stop you in your tracks for talking too much, by repeatedly slamming the door on your fingers and when you stop talking I will praise you. Can you see the comparisons I’m making?

Sadly, these days, people want instant gratification and are not prepared to invest time to achieve their goals. You only have to see the numerous television shows these days that promise, if you win you will achieve meteoric stardom and live the life of a millionaire for ever. This may happen for a very few people but the majority soon realise that show business is a cut throat world, far away from the realities of life and the likelihood of a fairy tale ending. True artists in any field will tell you that it has taken years to hone their craft and that’s how they have maintained their career, fame and credibility; for the rest they are cast aside like yesterday’s rubbish and never thought of again.

Balanced trainers seemingly ‘cure’ problems in an instant and all without the owner having to lift a finger. They ridicule other trainers that use positive reinforcement and accuse us of merely stuffing sausages into a dog’s mouth. Yes, I will openly say that I use force free methods and positive reinforcement; and yes this is sometimes a food reward, maybe a game with a toy or verbal praise. If the dog doesn’t do what I want, the worst thing I will do is to withhold the treat, toy or praise; never would I resort to violent methods because I don’t have to or want to.

To solve problems in an ethical and moral way you need to be knowledgeable, understanding and empathetic; whereas behaving like a bully or pressing a button on a remote control requires no talent at all!

I will always advocate using force-free and positive reinforcement when training; it’s kinder to the dog and makes training more enjoyable for the owner. If your dog is behaving aggressively out of fear, the addition of physical pain does not address the root cause. A ‘quick fix’ may stop the barking and lunging but at what emotional cost to you and your dog? Your dog wants to trust you, not fear you.

If you decide, for whatever reason, you can’t or won’t invest the time teaching your much loved family member and resort instead to the ‘balanced’ approach, well that’s between you and your conscience. Guilt is a terrible thing to live with.

There is a legal term Caveat Emptor meaning buyer beware! It is often assumed that this applies only to tangible goods that you buy, such as a car, or TV. However, services that you buy are also included. Dog trainers or car mechanics for example, are not obliged to explain the methods they use. It’s up to you to do your research and ensure the service you are going to pay for is exactly what you want. So check, check and check again because there is no point complaining after the event if you didn’t do your homework.

You chose to get a dog and all the responsibility that comes with it; your dog didn’t choose to get a human.

Rescue Dogs From Abroad

By Lyn Fleet

lyn fleet image There is increasingly a growing trend for people to adopt/rescue dogs from various countries abroad; Romania, Greece, Spain, France and others. Personally I’m not in favour of this because there are thousands of dogs in this country, languishing in rescue centres, desperately needing a forever home. That said, many people do seek dogs from abroad and that’s a decision you’ve probably made already. Often, owners allow their heart rule their head and don’t truly appreciate what they are committing themselves to. They think they are rescuing a dog from a ‘fate worse than death’. Whilst this may sometimes be the case, the dog could have led a perfectly happy life, albeit different to what we think is normal and/or acceptable. Imagine for a moment you are that dog. You are plucked from all that you know and shipped off to a foreign land. You have no idea where you are, the climate, the culture, the food and you don’t know the language. How would you feel if you found yourself in such a situation? Likely as not you would be bewildered, homesick, have difficulty coping and this will cause you great stress. You don’t know at that stage that the people you find yourself with just want to shower you with love and affection, you will want for nothing.

  • Your dog may never have been on a lead.
  • May have lived in the countryside and never encountered traffic.
  • They may have been one of life’s ‘drifters’ travelling wherever life took them.
  • They may have been used to sleeping under the stars and never in a house.
  • Being fed meant that they had to hunt and kill their own food.
  • Used to have lots a ‘canine mates’ to chat and play with in the street.
  • Sometimes they have been physically or mentally abused so gaining trust maybe a long, long process.

You will probably never know for certain but the above few reasons need to be considered. Can you see now why they are possibly going to find settling into our way of life very difficult? We expect them to feel ‘grateful’ and to hang on our every word and do everything that we ask of them.

  • Dogs in this situation need us to be extremely patient and give them all the time necessary to acclimatise to our way of life.
  • Don’t rush them off to ‘obedience classes’ where they are very likely to feel overwhelmed.
  • Gently begin to teach them at home; remember that English is unlikely to be their first language.

Dogs from abroad can be very rewarding and fulfilling and a fabulous addition to your family. However, love alone is NOT enough! Your dog’s specific needs have to be considered and catered for.

© Lyn Fleet 2018

The Importance of Cooperative Care in Dog Training

By Tori Ganino, BS, CDBC, CPDT-KA

Nail trims

Cooperative care has become a frequently used term in the positive reinforcement world of animal training. This is where an animal has a choice in his care and is an active participant. It is even used with animals in zoos. Do a quick internet search and you will find videos of tigers, alligators, and hyenas participating in physical examinations and blood draws. If these animals can be comfortable with the process then so can your dog.

When I say “choice”, I do not mean that the dog can pick between fighting against having a nail trim or just submitting to it. I mean that the dog can choose when he is ready to begin and give calm signals letting you know that he needs a break. The whole process does not cause any stress to the dog.

Dogs are always communicating with us. The goals with cooperative care are to to teach the dog that the overall process is a good thing and that there is no need to growl or bite when being handled for activities necessary for his health, such as vet examinations, teeth brushing, ear cleaning, and nail trims. If they aren’t telling us that they are uncomfortable by these signals, what else can they do? My personal preference for my dogs is telling me that they need a break simply by lifting up their heads.

Two of my dogs have their own individual goals to assist them with better care. This blog will be focusing on Jeter and nail trims. By breaking down the task into many small stages, and only proceeding to the next stage when he was comfortable, we built up to a great cooperative nail care regiment.

Jeter not only disliked seeing the nail clippers, but he was extremely upset when you tried to touch his feet. His nails were extremely overgrown when we adopted him as an adult.

Our original strategy to get them trimmed took two people. One was feeding him the entire time while the other attempted to cut the nails. We were not always successful, and often times the session ended with him growling. This was not the kind of care that we wanted for him.

With the help of a fellow trainer, Deb Jones, his training plan was broken down into many stages: seeing the nail clippers, nail clippers touching his paws, nail clippers touching his nails, my hand touching his paws, my hand holding his paws, my hand squeezing his paws, isolating each nail, touching the nails with my fingers, squeezing the nails, touching the nails with the clippers, putting clippers around the nails, then clipping. He started out in the down position on the edge of the bed for these steps.

I was not just teaching him that these activities were okay to do, I was helping him develop a positive conditioned emotional response (+CER) to each, and therefore the entire process. In other words, he was happy. This was obvious by the anticipatory tail wags while we trained. A +CER is created by being performing a step, like the ones described above, at your dog’s comfort level and then immediately following it with a reward.

For example, placing the clippers around the nails predicted that a special treat would be delivered.

By the time we worked up to clipping nails, he was relaxing on his side which he was taught to do separate from all of the handling.  If Jeter lifted his head off of the bed during the session, I knew that he was letting me know that he was not comfortable and wanted me to stop. If his head went back down, he was letting me know that he was ready to continue.

It sounds like a lot of work and it was. Over the course of six weeks, with a few daily sessions lasting about two minutes each, Jeter was able to progress tremendously with his routine.  But why go through all of this just to trim his nails? The previous technique not only caused him a great deal of stress, but it stressed me out to the point where I dreaded doing his nails. I also was not able to get them shortened to where it was a good length for the health of his paws and joints. What was worse is that any time I forced him to deal with an upsetting situation he was losing trust in me. This was greatly upsetting for the both of us and not the type of relationship that I wished to have with him.

Anytime we force our dogs to do something that they are not comfortable with, we run the risk of progressively making the activity more traumatic each time, to the point where the dog bites. By taking the time to break down the steps of the care routine, and training your dog to be happy with each one, you can have the same success as Jeter.

Tori Ganino CDBC, CPDT-KA is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed through the CCPDT, and a member of International Canine Behaviourists (ICB) and the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN). She owns Calling All Dogs located in Batavia, NY where she teaches group classes and private lessons for obedience and behavior modification.

You can find out more about Tori from her website


Choosing a Doggy Daycare Part 1

By  Tori Ganino, CDBC, CPDT-KA, ABCDT

January 29, 2019

Doggy daycares have been popping up all over the country at a surprising rate.  With the many different daycares that are in your area, how do you choose which is the best one?  Would it surprise you to learn that there are no regulations in New York State for the doggy daycare industry?  Yes, you read that right.  Anyone can open up a doggy daycare and claim to be experts in dog play and body language.  What you might find equally surprising is what tools and techniques are allowed when controlling the dogs (more on this in Part 2).  Below are questions that you should ask before bringing your dog to play.

1)    What is the intake process?

Every dog should be pre-screened before walking into the facility.  Questionnaires and phone consults are common ways to do this.  An in-depth discussion should take place regarding the dog’s play style, aggressive incidents, and general social history.  Any dog with a bite history, regardless of the severity, should be turned away.

Once the pre-screening has deemed the dog a good candidate for daycare, an in-facility evaluation should take place.  The evaluation is where your dog would be brought in and slowly introduced to the group while making sure that he does not get overwhelmed or become fearful.  If this occurs, the facility should have guidelines to follow to ensure everyone’s physical and emotional safety.  Make sure to ask about these procedures.

2)    What are the emergency procedures?

Procedures should be in place for natural disasters, fights, robberies, and medical emergencies.  What will happen if the building is on fire?  What will happen if a dog needs medical care?  Do the staff members know how to break up a dog fight properly?  All of this should be in writing and readily accessible to the staff.

3)    What is the staff’s education?

Staff members need to know more than just how to break up a dog fight.  They must also be extremely knowledgeable about how to prevent one in the first place.  Fight prevention requires staff to have an in-depth understanding of body language, communication signals, play styles, signs of escalating play that needs to be interrupted, fear, stress, and anxiety.  All of which must be the most up to date, science-based, information. How has the staff been educated on these topics, and how many hours of hands-on experience are required before given the job of managing a playgroup? Are there continuing education requirements?

Facilities may say that they have someone certified in dog CPR and First Aid.  Is that person in with the playgroups, or are they merely working the reception area leaving less qualified staff to attend to the dogs?  Is there a CPR/First Aid certified staff member on property at all times?

4)    What is the dog to staff to ratio?

As previously mentioned, New York State does not regulate the doggy daycare industry.  Lack of regulation means that one handler can be responsible for supervising anywhere from 1-100 or more dogs. The industry does have a guideline that should be followed: an experienced handler should only be responsible for 10-15 dogs; meaning that at least two people should supervise 30 dogs.

5)    How many dogs are in a given area?

Any number of dogs can play in any size space.  The industry also has a guideline for this: each dog should have 50-100 sq. Ft. of space, depending on his size, with larger dogs needing more room than smaller dogs. This guideline means that 30 dogs should be provided with 1,500 sq. Ft. to 3,000 sq. ft. of play area.  The area should be on the larger end of the estimate if there are many large dogs in the group.

6)    Are the dogs always supervised?

It is important that the dogs are never left unsupervised when together.  A staff member should always be present, attentive, and proactive.  Dogs that need short breaks can be placed in crates or pens.  There should be a procedure for how long they are left in them, the amount of time before being visually checked on, and what to do if a dog consistently cannot appropriately handle being in the playgroup.

Running a daycare is a time and skill intensive endeavor. More information to know and questions to ask will be coming up in “Choosing a Doggy Daycare, Part 2”.

Tori Ganino CDBC, CPDT-KA is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed through the CCPDT, and a member of International Canine Behaviourists (ICB) and the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN). She owns Calling All Dogs located in Batavia, NY where she teaches group classes and private lessons for obedience and behavior modification.

You can find out more about Tori from her website

Choosing a Doggy Daycare Part 2

By Tori Ganino, BS, CDBC, CPDT-KA

February 5, 2019


In addition to the six questions outlined in “Choosing a Doggy Daycare, Part 1”, there are four more that we would like you to consider.

1) How does the staff control the dogs?

Staff should be trained to handle all situations that arise when dogs play together. As I mentioned, active supervision, as well as being well versed in proactive prevention of problems when behaviors start to escalate, is essential. The question you should ask is what methods are being used to control the group? Would you believe that there are daycares in New York State, as well as other states, that use whips? Yes, you read the right. The use of whips are often described as the extension of the staff’s arms. In reality, the staff uses them to intimidate dogs into control or fearful submission. The same goes for shaker cans, spray bottles, bark collars, and shock collars, all of which are all typical “tools” that daycares might use.

2) What activities do the dogs participate in throughout the day?

Owners want their dogs to play with other dogs, but it is also important that other activities take place. Small training sessions are beneficial for the dogs to learn to listen to the staff and to come when they are called. Breaks should be incorporated into the schedule to ensure that the dogs learn to relax in the presence of other dogs, but also so they do not become over aroused or tired, which can lead to altercations.

3) Can you access pictures and videos of the dogs playing every day?

When I brought my young dog, Cooper, to daycare, I called to check in during my lunch break and asked how his day was when I picked him up. The staff always told me that he was doing well. The facility posted pictures of all the dogs at the end of the week. Out of 100, I might see one of Cooper. I continued to bring him there for eight months because the staff ensured me that he was having fun. When I started working in a daycare, I took him with me. It turned out that Cooper was terrified and would shake in the corner. It was evident that not only was he not having fun, but he was terrified. Make sure to insist that you have some evidence that your dog is playing and enjoying his time there.

4) Do the dogs wear collars?

While the staff needs to be able to move dogs around, it is vital that the dogs wear either breakaway collars or no collars at all. In my daycare, breakaway collars are utilized. This is so there is no chance of a dog’s jaw becoming stuck in a collar. Not only can the jaw be damaged, but the dog who is wearing the collar can be strangled.

While the list is not exhaustive, between parts one and two of “Choosing a Doggy Daycare,” ten critical questions have been outlined for you to assist in your search for the right daycare. If you have any doubt about one that you have interviewed being the right fit for your dog, make sure to move on. If any additional questions arise, make sure to ask them. Working with multiple dogs in a play setting can be fun, but it also has its challenges. The staff must be trained to handle the day to day occurrences, and the facility needs to be organized to ensure everyone’s safety.

Tori Ganino CDBC, CPDT-KA is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed through the CCPDT, and a member of International Canine Behaviourists (ICB) and the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN). She owns Calling All Dogs located in Batavia, NY where she teaches group classes and private lessons for obedience and behavior modification.

You can find out more about Tori from her website

Giving your dog a choice

Giving your dog a choice

It is often underestimated how important it is to give our dogs choices. How many of you ask your dogs to follow you an a walk rather than you following them? Unless there is a very good reason I will always let my dogs lead the walk. I go where they want to go, after all its their walk.

Here is a brilliant video from ICB member Angela Pitman on this very subject.

Angela and Dotty

Chasing the dream dog

Chasing the dream dog

When I was a child my Nan had two Dobermans, Kaiser and Monty, they were the most beautiful dogs, well they were in my eyes. Monty was my absolute favourite and I have all these wonderful memories of being round my Nan’s and playing with the dogs (this was the 1970’s so a very different era from today). Recently when I saw my mum and regaled all these wonderful memories she looked at me in a rather funny way and told me that what I had remembered wasn’t strictly true. Monty was an actual nightmare who didn’t like children. My Nan had a fair amount of land and the dogs would roam “Don’t you remember the time when he scratched your face badly?” she told me and I honestly don’t. Having chatted to my Mum it’s now very clear to me that Monty wasn’t the wonderful dog I thought he was. He was struggling to cope in a place where there were a lot of children, which made him anxious, and he would try and remove himself from the situation but us kids being kids (or total nightmares) and the adults not realising there was anything wrong with this, would follow him and basically make his life hell and cause him untold stress and anxiety. Looking back at this I hate to think what we put poor Monty through, but in the back of my mind there are still those memories, those rose tinted memories that I have of him being the best dog in the world.

So why am I waffling on about my childhood memories I hear you ask? Well ever since becoming a qualified behaviourist and also working a lot in rescue, one of the reasons I often hear for people getting a dog is ‘I had a *insert breed here* when I was a child and it was the best dog in the world’ and no other breed will do, so they look around the rescue centres for a certain breed or if the rescues centres dont have one, they look at getting a puppy and then they find out, that it’s nothing like the one they had as a child or how they remembered them to be. Or, even worse in my opinion, they see a film or a tv show with a certain breed of dog and the dog in the film is amazing so all dogs of that breed are amazing, lets face it we all wanted Lassie for a pet when we were kids, – unfortunately it just doesn’t work like that!

Here are a few things to remember if you are looking for a dog ‘like the one that you had as a child’ or ‘the one in the film’:-

The dog in the film will have been highly trained, hours and hours and hours of training, reinforcing, shaping behaviours will have occurred before the dog is able to perform in a film and they may have looked at 40 dogs of the same breed and only found one that had a temperament that was suitable. Do you remember Ashleigh and Pudsey from Britain’s Got Talent? After the final I remember everyone wanted a Chinese Crested Powderpuff dog so they could have a dog just like Pudsey. What they didn’t realise was the hundreds of hours that goes into creating a bond and trust between the dog and the owner, the hundreds of hours of training that goes in just so they can do a two minute performance and more importantly Pudsey is unique, as all dogs are.

Every dog is an individual, thank goodness, or it would be very boring if they were all the same. They have their own characteristics, their own personality, their own quirks. Dogs of the same breed will have breed traits, but these are different to personality. Even dogs from the same litter will be different. If we think about it in human terms, you may be similar to your siblings in your mannerisms and looks, but you will have very different personalities.

Environment, how well the dog was socialised and past experiences will also shape how a dog behaves.

So here are my top tips if you are looking to get a dog:-

Dont put your childhood dog on a pinnacle that no other dog can reach.

If you are looking at getting a pup from a breeder, research the breeder. Its amazing how the first few weeks of a puppy’s life can make a huge difference to how it is as an adult dog. A good breeder will use those crucial first few weeks to get the dog used to different things it will come across in daily life, such as the hoover, children, tv, different floor surfaces, different noises and the list goes on and on. If the breeder doesn’t do this or the dogs are just left to their own devices then walk away.

If you are looking at getting a rescue dog then see if they have any past history for the dog. If there is no history, see if you can get an assessment of the dog from a qualified behaviourist. Most good rescue centres will have access to a qualified behaviourist either on their staff or they will have contact details.

Research the breed, this is so important. What was the dog bred for originally? does it have any specific breed traits that may not work with your lifestyle?

Finally, another thing to consider is that your memories may not be quite the same as reality, mine certainly weren’t. We tend to look back on things with a rose tinted vision and what we remember may not actually be what happened. So the dog that was the best dog in the world may have been totally shut down because they couldn’t cope, or they may have been an awesome dog but what you don’t see is all the work that went into making them that awesome dog.

We also have to take a moment to think about the impact our expectation of the dog will have on them. I have often heard the phrase ‘my other lab didn’t do that’, well that’s no surprise to me as this is a different lab, but the owner then starts having negative associations with the dog, ‘they aren’t as good as my last dog’ – have you ever said or heard that? Again it’s another negative association and it’s not the dog’s fault – it is the fault of the owners and their expectations.

In short, what I am asking of you is that if you are thinking of getting a dog, look at the dog in front of you, not one from a cinema screen or from your past. Spend time building up the bond and trust and you never know it may just be the best dog you have ever owned.

Sue Lefevre Grad Dip ABM, MICAN, MICB



Puppy Socialisation – Why is it going wrong?

By Lyn Fleet and Angela Pitman


For the last twenty years or so, trainers have been drumming it into owners they must socialise their puppy with people and other dogs. In many puppy socialisation classes all the puppies are let off lead together so they can play. This sounds great in theory but in reality some pups learn to be bullies and others learn to be victims. As your mother used to say “It will all end in tears”. Along with this, access to the internet has mushroomed so people have much more information at their fingertips; some of this is good and some is not.

Through best of intentions, owners (and also many trainers) think that they have to get their pup to meet every dog and every person that they come across; whether the pup wants to or not. Whilst this may seem perfectly logical in order to prevent behaviour problems later, why is it failing dogs so spectacularly?

You will often hear puppy owners say things like “Look at that big doggie” or “Say hello nicely”, whilst simultaneously dragging their pup on the lead towards the other dog. They will rush up to random people and ask them to make a fuss of their pup and feed it treats so it learns to like people. If it were your child would you plonk it on a stranger’s knee and ask them to feed it sweeties in order to make it well mannered?

People take their pup to the park which is fine, but they expect it to love all other dogs and want to endlessly play with them. Just because I am a human doesn’t mean I love ever other person on the planet; yet we think all dogs should love each other and therefor want to play together. Not so!

This is Humphrey, aged 12wks, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of an exciting new world without being forced to greet anyone or anyone crowding him, this will set him on the right road to be a relaxed and happy adult dog.

Dotty, on the other hand, was a little more ‘in your face’ as a puppy!

For all that is known these days about the importance early socialisation, why is it we are inadvertently creating little monsters? Barking and lunging on the lead, pestering other dogs to play, no recall and mugging people for food; behaviour problems are at an all-time high.

You will have heard the expression “It’s not what you say; it’s the way that you say it.” Well it’s like that with puppy socialisation, “It’s not what you do; it’s the way that you do it”.

Observing dogs in many different European cities, they accompany their owner, walk nicely on the lead, seeing other dogs, adults and children and yet are unreactive. Nothing seems to faze them and they take life in their stride. Although they are polite they can pass people and dogs without a burning desire to say hello, play or to back away in fear, this is because they don’t force their adorable puppies onto everybody and people don’t rush up to the puppies, insisting on a fuss without even waiting for a response from the owner, the puppies are simply accompanying their owner in exactly the same way that toddlers accompany their parents.

Without a doubt, puppies do need early socialisation but in a far less obsessive way than we are doing now. We are currently putting too much pressure on them in our eagerness to get it right. Puppies are easily overwhelmed and can go into sensory overload because we are exposing them to too much, too quickly. Pups need much more space and time that we currently give them. They must be allowed time to absorb life at their own pace so they can and inwardly digest all the information they collect. Let them decide if they want to get closer to something or someone to investigate. If they look unsure or reticent to approach, take the hint and give them more space and time. In essence don’t try too hard; don’t be a pushy parent!

In the park, by all means let them to nod a quick hello to other dog but then to doff their cap and walk on by; metaphorically speaking of course. You need your dog to be polite but not constantly pestering other dogs to play; just as you don’t follow total strangers around in the street and ask them home for afternoon tea or a round of golf.

Although it is important that we don’t push our puppies onto other people, it is also just as important that we learn to say ‘No’ when people are aiming for you at a rate of knots with eyes fixed onto your pup, often they will be all over the pup while saying they ‘absolutely MUST say hello’, you are then left feeling helpless until they have finished, you don’t need to feel you are being rude, just a polite, ‘not this time but thank you for asking’ and continue with your walk.

This is the very reason that people then struggle for the next two years trying to stop their now, very boisterous pup, from jumping up at everyone, the pups/dogs don’t understand that what seemed normal when they were tiny, is not appropriate when they are 8 stone and covered in mud!

We all know what it’s like to get lumbered with the party bore. Every way you turn they are in your face trying to get you to laugh at their distinctively unfunny jokes. Many pups can be likened to that party bore, they don’t take no for an answer. To add insult to injury the puppy owner shouts “He only wants to play”. Because we abdicate our responsibilities, we leave it to other people’s dogs to sort the problem out. The other dog eventually loses patients and may growl and show its teeth to get your pup to go away; worst case scenario a fight may ensue and your pup could get seriously injured. The villain of the piece was actually you, not the other dog.

Sadly, this can be compounded by some well-meaning day care or group dog walks, all the dogs off the lead, seemingly having a fine old time, but when you then want to take your pup/dog out on your own, your dog seeks out the attention of other dogs or people, often leading to frustration, while on the lead, how insulting that your dog prefers the company of others to you!

Your pup’s enjoyment should not be to the detriment of other park users, be they human or dog. Now here’s a radicle thought, take toys with you and have enjoyable games with your pup. Sorted!

Humphrey and Dotty celebrating the first year of a perfectly polite friendship.

To rescue or not to rescue: that is the question

As a behaviourist, I love working with all kinds of dogs, large dogs or small dogs, pure breeds or cross breeds. The dogs that I really love working with are rescue dogs and I have a real soft spot for stray dogs that have been brought in, as we have no knowledge to prejudge; everything we learn is from observation and working with the dog. I have owned 5 dogs, 4 of which have been rescue dogs and one that I have had from a puppy, which was my first dog and the most challenging. I hadn’t started my journey as a behaviourist back when I got Jake my German Shepherd Puppy and all of a sudden I had this extremely cute ‘land-shark’ and I had no idea what to do, this is where my journey to becoming a behaviourist started, but that’s another story for another day.

I’m sure everyone, ok maybe not everyone, but a lot of people who have thought about getting a dog or have already decided to get a dog have been told by someone ‘Adopt don’t shop’, and in these days of social media some opinions can come across as quite aggressive. However as much I love rescue dogs, I know that adopting a dog from a rescue centre isn’t right for everyone and in my humble opinion you should never have to justify yourself whether you get a rescue dog or a dog from a breeder, all I ask is that you treat your dog with kindness and compassion and above all give it lots of love.

Over the years I have heard many reasons why people shy away from adopting a rescue dog, I am by no means saying that everybody that wants a dog should adopt a rescue, but there does seem to be some myths about the type of dog that you get when you adopt from a rescue. Hopefully I can dispel some of the myths for you.


Myth – All rescue dogs have behaviour problems, why else would they be in a rescue centre.

While it is true that some rescue dogs do have behavioural problems, not all of them do, some dogs end up in rescue centres through no fault of their own. Some are there because their owner has died, or there is illness in the family and they can no longer keep the dog, or their circumstances have changed and they can no longer give the dog the life it deserves. Some dogs are signed over just because they are no longer wanted – sad but true. Another point to remember is that behavioural problems do not just happen in rescue dogs, they can happen in any dog.

Myth – I can’t get a rescue dog because I have children.

Every dog is an individual and while some rescue centres put a blanket ban on re homing to families with young children, some rescue centres look at the dog, where the dog has come from and they will consult a fully qualified behaviourist to carry out an assessment. A dog may have come from a home with children and due to circumstances, that have nothing to do with the behaviour of the dog, it may end up in a rescue centre. The rescue centre will look to see if the family is suitable for the dog – surely that’s the wrong way round I hear you say – but no, it is the rescue’s job to advocate for the dog. The last thing the dog needs is to be placed in an unsuitable home and then returned to the rescue, just imagine how unsettling, scary and potentially damaging that would be for the dog.

Myth – You cant teach rescue dogs as they are too old or damaged.

The saying that you cant teach an old dog new tricks is a complete myth, learning theory does not discriminate against age or species, it does not care if the dog is 6 months, 6 weeks or 6 years. Behaviour follows motivation, if the motivation is right for that dog the behaviour will follow. You may have to adapt the way you train an older dog, but find the right motivation and you will be ok.

So, I can now hear you all running to your computers to look up where your local rescue centre is, but on a more serious note, if you are thinking about adopting a rescue dog there are definitely things to consider.

One of the most important aspects to consider is whether the rescue centre will give you help, advice and support after you have adopted the dog, in the world of rescue this is called rescue back up. Should any problems arise, the rescue should be able to either offer advice, if they have a qualified trainer or behaviourist there, or be able to put you in touch with a qualified professional to help you. Also you need to see if they will take the dog back if, god forbid, anything happens to you. If they don’t offer this support then walk away, I know it sounds awful, but honestly it is better all round.

Another aspect is always keep an open mind. We, as humans, see a cute picture on a website of a dog that needs adopting and we go ‘ah that one is so cute, I want it’, and if we don’t get what we want, then god help all those around us. The cute dog in the picture might not be the right dog for you and your family, but your perfect dog may be in the kennel next door and you haven’t even given it a second thought. Trust that the rescue knows their dogs. I love German Shepherds, I mean I really love them and my two rescue dogs are a Welsh Collie and a Collie cross, they were the right dogs for me and my husband and we adore them.

I would also suggest that you do some research on the breed that you are thinking of getting, this is good advice whether you are adopting a dog or getting one from a breeder. Have a look at your lifestyle and see if the breed you are thinking of getting will fit in well with it because the chances of you changing your lifestyle to fit in with the dog could be pretty slim, if you don’t like a lot of walking and providing a lot of mental stimulation then I would steer clear of working dogs such as Collies or Working Cocker Spaniel.

Another thing to consider is what activities does the rescue offer to the dogs in their care. Mental stimulation and enrichment is so important for the wellbeing of all pets, but especially important to animals in rescue centres.

Last, but by no means least is try not to prejudge the dog by breed. A lot of people are drawn to a certain breed of dog and some are drawn away from certain breeds, this can be for many reasons, it was a breed they had when they were young or they had a certain breed and the dog was amazing so all dogs of that breed must be amazing or they have heard horror stories about certain breeds so all the dogs of that breed must be bad. Remember every single dog is an individual, including every dog within a breed. There are certain traits within a breed, but no two dogs are the same, thank goodness or wouldn’t it be boring.

Having a dog (or dogs) to share your life, whether it is a rescue dog or not, is an absolute honour and that should always be remembered.



Sue Lefevre

Graduate Diploma Animal Behaviour Management

Chair of ICAN: International Companion Animal Network

ICB full member.

ICAN Certified Animal Behaviourist