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Author: Nanette Lai

I'm not special. I have MS. According to MS Canada, 1 in every 400 people live with multiple sclerosis. So - I'm really not special. I have special GOALS. My goal is to empower other spoonie dog owners by showing them how capable they are in using positive reinforcement for teaching their pet dogs to become well-mannered family members. Learning to teach your dog to be a well-mannered pet doesn’t have to be. In fact, the process can be accessible and simple. https://unbalanceddogtraining.com/

January Is National Train Your Dog Month

Did you know? Less than 5% of all pet dogs are intentionally trained

Consider your canine patient population. In particular, ask your front desk team about their observations of dog leash manners. Then ask them to select a number from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) to describe their level of agreement with the subtitle.

Between 30 to 60% of dog owners do not walk their dogs because the dogs pull on leash (1). Dogs pulling on leash are the most common behaviour problem reported to veterinarians (2). Beyond a dog behaviour problem, dogs pulling on leash compromise human health.

From 2001 to 2020, an estimated 422,659 individuals presented to emergency departments across the United States from injuries related to leash-dependent dog walking (3). Within the same time frame, 1 in 5 injuries treated at USA emergency departments involved a dog pulling on leash (4). Nearly 90% of the injuries happened to individuals aged 18 and older. A common injury reported was traumatic brain injury (TBI) from falling as a result of a dog pulling on the leash (3). Canadian data will likely be comparable–maybe even more so given that we have universal health care.

What does that mean for your clients and patients?

Let’s assume some of your clients or their immediate family members have been injured from a family pet pulling on its leash. This means your practice can expect to be contacted by clients asking for referrals to pet dog trainers.

After experiencing a fall from walking a pet dog, clients may immediately turn to quick-fix methods for changing the dog’s behaviour. Unfortunately, many quick-fix methods involve using positive punishment which simply suppresses the leash pulling rather than teach the dog how to walk politely on a loose leash . Additionally, positive punishment used in the name of training often results in negative impacts on the human-animal bond and compromises dog welfare (Hiby, 2023)

Prioritising Patient Welfare

Note that dog training remains an unregulated profession globally. However, this is not common knowledge to the general public. This presents a wonderful chance for your team, where client education can be provided regarding positive reinforcement pet dog training methods. Ideally, one team member will have expertise speaking about positive reinforcement pet dog training and even demonstrating some of the mechanics involved for teaching a pet dog to walk on a loose leash, offering a short coaching session to the client. This may occur as part of the patient’s appointment, or scheduled as a separate visit specifically addressing common behaviour challenges. In addition to the leash-pulling, complaints from pet dog owners include dogs running away or foreign body ingestion. If you have a team member who happens to be an accredited pet dog training instructor holding membership with the following associations (Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Pet Professionals Guild), wonderful!

Game Plan

Considering some of the physical injuries on humans, some immediate strategies your practice can offer would be equipment:

-harnesses[1]

-head halters[2]

Please let your client know these tools simply manage the dog’s behaviour, so training still needs to occur. Additionally, the relationship still needs to be repaired–which is where positive reinforcement methods can help, because quick successes will keep the client engaged with educating their pet going forward.

Sources cited:

  1. Cutt, H., Giles-Corti, B., & Knuiman, M. (2008). Encouraging physical activity through dog walking: why don’t some owners walk with their dog?. Preventive Medicine, 46(2), 120–126.
  2. Townsend, L., Dixon, L., & Buckley, L. (2022). Lead pulling as a welfare concern in pet dogs: What can veterinary professionals learn from current research?. Veterinary record, 191(10)
  3. Maxson, R., Leland, C. R., McFarland, E. G., Lu, J., Meshram, P., & Jones, V. C. (2023). Epidemiology of Dog Walking-Related Injuries Among Adults Presenting to US Emergency Departments, 2001–2020. Medicine and science in sports and exercise.
  4. Forrester M. B. (2020). Dog leash-related injuries treated at emergency departments. The American journal of emergency medicine, 38(9), 1782–1786. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajem.2020.05.082
  5. Hiby, E., Rooney, N., & Bradshaw, J. (2004). Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare, 13(1), 63–69. doi:10.1017/S0962728600026683
  6. Todd, Z. (2018). Barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 25, 28-34.
  7. Knights, H., & Williams, J. (2021). The influence of three working harnesses on thoracic limb kinematics and stride length at walk in assistance dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 45, 16-24.
  8. Blake, S., Williams, R., & Ferro de Godoy, R. (2019). A systematic review of the biomechanical effects of harness and head-collar use in dogs. bioRxiv, 759258.

[1] Not all harnesses are made equal, and fit is very particular for each dog’s body type. Measurements to gather from the dog are neck and chest width. Harnesses should permit non-restrictive movement to a dog’s forelimbs (7)

[2] Head halters may not be appropriate for all breeds. Consider your patient’s breed before recommending this for leash-pulling (8)

Using The Power of Permissions For Successful Pet Dog Training

Many of us have dogs that are simply stealing things they want

I’m sure most of us are familiar with this conditional probability statement:

if x, then y.

In other words: given some event x occurs, y event will follow.

Come again?

Is this about math, Nanette?

Well, there won’t be number crunching.

But that is how I use permissions to successfully teach pet dogs pretty much anything.

A few weeks ago, these two dogs stayed over at my place as boarders while their family was away.

They are both on my bed, which they earned from doing incredibly simple tasks: I simply wanted them to touch their noses to my palm.

I held my flat hand open and waited for their choice to drive their nose into my hand. When they did, then I gave them permission to hop onto my bed.

That was it.

I didn’t verbally cue them, to avoid them ignore the cue or risk myself repeating the word.

I simply held my hand flat. I set each dog up for success by having my hand about 6 inches away from their noses, so that there was just one option for them to succeed. Had either dog displayed body language indicating discomfort with my flat hand being close to their faces, I would have increased the distance from my hand or reinforced their comfort by using super high value rewards applicable to each dog. I relied a lot on my prior observations about what each dog valued, from food to toys to interactions with me.

Fortunately, both dogs quickly grasped the conditional: if this person holds her palm flat, then we poke our nose into her palm, and then we can go onto the bed.

No bribes with food or punishment or even verbal intimidation.

Just clarity.

I do that often with many of my pet sitting charges.

Similarly, my personal dogs are educated the same way.

Before I open my front door to let my dogs go outside, they learn that the choice they make in front of the door is the Open Sesame.                  

In particular, the dog’s choice of offering a stationary position (a sit, down, or stand) initiates the door opening. For the door to open, the position must be held. Once the dog holds the position, they may then receive permission to cross the threshold of the open door, which is the release cue (word).

Photo credit: author

In my humble opinion, dogs’ behaviour reflects their trainer’s familiarity with reinforcement. Certainly, there are dogs that have been educated using verbal intimidation and physical punishment. Those dogs have learned to be afraid. In psychology, the resulting behaviours indicate learned helplessness, where a dog learns nothing but to give up because of repeated punishment (Maier & Seligman, 1976).

Research and social change demonstrate increasing awareness of dog emotions and welfare (Todd, 2018; China et al., 2020). Given the veterinary industry having so much influence on companion animal welfare, I hope this field continues driving the change towards regulating the dog training industry.

Sources cited

China, L., Mills, D. S., & Cooper, J. J. (2020). Efficacy of Dog Training With and Without Remote Electronic Collars vs. a Focus on Positive Reinforcement. Frontiers in veterinary science7, 508. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.00508

Maier, S. F., & Seligman, M. E. (1976). Learned helplessness: theory and evidence. Journal of experimental psychology: general105(1), 3.

Todd, Z. (2018). Barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 25, 28-34.

How A One-Time Dog Vomiting Incident Led to Euthanasia

Sometimes: once is enough.

I’d like to share a story about a friend’s dog,
“Winter.”
Winter showed me that a single incident of vomiting could be a veterinary
emergency.
Winter was a spirited little American Eskimo dog, a breed that looks similar
to the dog pictured below.

Photo by Steve Ding on Unsplash


I met Winter and his family when I worked as a professional pet dog training
instructor in a retail store.
Winter and his people were in a class scheduled before my own class. Since
there were breaks between classes, I got to know Winter’s family very well.
To the point where we became incredible friends.
To the point where we became each others’ extended family.
One of the things Winter loved to do?
Eat snow.
Generally, dogs eating or licking snow isn’t a veterinary emergency.
In 2009, Winter ate/licked some snow covering the ground in the parking lot
at the condo where he lived with his humans.


Where the snow was located turned the situation into a veterinary emergency.
Since the snow Winter had eaten was from the ground of a parking lot, the
snow likely contained antifreeze. Antifreeze supposedly tastes sweet to dogs.


The antifreeze that gets poured into cars contains methylene glycol,
methanol, and ethylene glycol.
In other words: extremely toxic and not intended for
drinking.
Because Winter had only vomited once, his people felt that wasn’t an
emergency. After all, he had vomited before and was no worse for wear.
This time, the family had to say good-bye to a 3 year old dog.


I spent most of that week with Winter’s humans, including visiting him at the
veterinary hospital and conversing with the veterinarians overseeing his
care.
Eventually, I ended up signing the form authorizing Winter’s euthanasia to
end his suffering, because I didn’t want his humans to live with the guilt of
“killing” their beloved dog. I even said they could blame me if they wanted
to.
Since Winter’s family and I remain friends to the present day, I know I did
the right thing.

Check out Nanette Lai’s accessible force-free dog training from her website!