Training Manners the Force-Free Way

 Tough Love – No Thanks

Training Manners the Force-Free Way

 bandit in bitless_WP

Lisa Kerley BSc, KPA-CTP
Dog Days Daycare

How often have people told you to “show your dog who’s boss”? I get that a lot too. As a professional dog trainer, people come to me for help and advice with their dogs every day. Away my facility however, many people don’t know what I do for a living and are more than eager to give me ‘some tips’ with MY big guy. I’m told I should use a chain to assert myself and to maintain control. I need to correct mistakes and ‘get after him’ if he steps out of line. Not only am I warned that he will take over, but that he will actually become dangerous if I don’t do these things.

Over the last two decades I’ve worked with literally thousands of dogs of every size and description, from a 1lb Chihuahua pup to a pair of Presa Canarios weighing in at 165lb each. All have had their own unique personalities and every imaginable behavior or training issue. From dogs that would readily use teeth to defend anything they prized, to those that would pin strangers against walls and hold them there until rescued by the parents. Not once have I felt that resorting  to harsher equipment or tougher methods was necessary or would help.

So every time I hear “those kind methods are fine for the soft ones, but they don’t work with bigger / stronger / tougher dogs”, I smile. Really? Because my guy, a stallion, weighs in at over 1100lbs.

Horses endure force and punishment in the name of training and in their day-to-day handling, even more than many dogs do. They have chains on their faces and metal in their mouths. Their heads are tied down and their mouths strapped shut. They are poked in the ribs with metal spikes and hit with sticks. This is partly because of their size, as this somehow makes a smack or kick sting less; partly because they ‘do worse to each other’, so they can certainly handle anything we might dole out; and partly because that’s the way it’s always been done, perhaps the most upsetting reason of all.

And stallions typically get more than their fair share of this. They have a reputation for being intense and dangerous. Their behaviour is strongly influenced by hormones and they often respond to things in the environment much more intensely than is typical with a gelding or mare. “You can’t treat him like a regular horse”, I’ve been told again and again.

Now, I’ve seen how labels can land people in a lot of trouble with their dogs.  They set up an attitude for confrontation and challenge, even before getting started. Just like the dogs I work with, with my horse I’ve focused on building a strong relationship, one where I have developed trust by being reasonable and fair in my expectations and remaining consistent in those expectations. Short-term goals never override maintaining or strengthening our relationship.

I set my horse up for success by teaching him the skills he needs to share his life with me safely and comfortably. They are the foundation of our work together. I make these lessons clear and reasonable and don’t rely on equipment to get results. Initial work is presented simply, breaking the behavior or skill down into small pieces. This allows my student to grasp the lessons more easily and reduces frustration, both important for success. Most of the lessons are started at liberty, whether they ultimately will be used for day-to-day life or for riding. And because I have taken the time necessary to teach preliminary skills, there’s no need to rely on equipment like bits or crops, to get things done.

I know that if I have over-faced him and he loses his focus, or doesn’t respond to a request or acts inappropriately, it’s because I haven’t trained him adequately for that situation. I do not react to undesired behaviours by getting upset or using punishment. Instead I get him through the situation with as little drama as possible, making extra room for him if that will help, or giving him something to do that he’s good at that will get him focused and build a pleasant association.  What I take away from the experience is not that my horse has been ‘bad’. Instead I recognize that something is missing in his training. Whether that’s something I can work on in the moment or something I need to set up in a later session, reactions or stronger equipment won’t be part of the solution.

And just like us, horses can have bad days, and may not always be at their best. I’m not going to allow an off day to damage our relationship, or be an excuse to get tough with him, either.

So what special lessons and skills are required for a stallion? Stallions tend to use their mouths A LOT and many bite. They can be pushy about space and difficult to control, especially when they get aroused. They often lose their focus because of distractions in the environment.

My first concern was for safety. I didn’t want Bandolero to get hurt because his emotions got the best of him, just as much as I didn’t want to get run over or injured.

He also needed to be able to cope calmly with his daily life at the barn, including having mares moved around him and being groomed nearby – both big demands for a stallion! When we are together, whether that is riding, walking together or around other horses, I need him to pay attention and follow my direction when asked.

So with a plan in mind and a clicker in hand, I taught him to:

  • take treats nicely
  • be calm and polite around food and at feeding times
  • stay out of my space unless invited in
  • get out of my space calmly and quickly
  • be around distractions while remaining calm
  • walk together quietly, matching my pace and following my direction, while maintaining a loose line


Guess what? These are all skills that any horse would benefit from knowing! The only difference was that we had to spend extra time and care on developing his attention and focus in the face of distractions. Extra care and time that I was more than willing to spend to ensure he would be safe and have exceptional ground manners. And taking this time has allowed these skills to be developed without intimidation, force or equipment.

I like to think my stallion is an ambassador for positive, force-free training. He’s proof that  tougher methods or harsher equipment are not required because the animal is bigger or stronger. Every day both of us enjoy the benefits of using brainpower instead of manpower. And it sure feels good when people tell me what a polite, well-behaved guy he is, either!

Diggin’ It!

Diggin’ It!



An update on Quincy

By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP
In Partnership With Dogs

Our new puppy Quincy has decided that she just LOVES to dig!  Once she gets involved in an interesting hole, she could be at it for a long time – and she’s fast and very efficient when she gets going.  She’s also very difficult to stop once she gets into a digging frenzy!

One thing you realize very quickly when you have a new puppy is that life is a whole lot easier if you teach puppy how to entertain herself both indoors and outdoors in appropriate ways.

Some dogs and some breeds of dog are more genetically pre-disposed to dig than others and may enjoy digging their entire lifetime.  Other dogs may dig as youngsters but eventually grow out of the habit.  Our older, husky mix, Salem, has been a digger her entire life and continues to dig shallow pits in the summer to lie in – occasionally adding to one of the larger excavations in the yard when the mood strikes.

A good way to combat a determined digger like Quincy is to create her very own Digging Pit.  It’s very difficult to completely suppress such a natural behavior.  It’s much easier to give the behavior a more appropriate outlet.  In our case, I didn’t have to build a new pit because we have 3 pre-existing digging areas from past dogs.  I did allow her to pick one new area, though and she does tend to go between all 4 with a fair amount of regularity.  She seems fairly content having 4 areas and doesn’t often try to build “new digs” – but every now and then, a small hole magically appears in the lawn for us to fill in.

Quincy’s digging tends to take place during her moments of “puppy frenzy” which happens a couple of times a day.  She rips around the yard and occasionally stops to have a furious digging session before continuing to rip around – frequently bouncing off us with her now muddy paws!  Digging is also a popular boredom “sport” for dogs who spend too much time alone in the yard without enough mental stimulation to keep them content.

The trick is to build or create an area to dig AND combine that with clear and consistent training.  Without the training, simply having a digging pit isn’t likely to help a digging problem long term.

The Pit

As Quincy matures, she may lose her interest in digging but if it continues, the “art” of the digging pit will become important.  I need to ensure it’s interesting and occasionally surprising in order to keep her interest in that particular area high.

There is no official formula for creating a digging pit.  Really it’s just figuring out what may attract your particular dog and building your pit around those ideas.  The art to creating a successful pit is to make it more attractive to your dog than any other part of the yard or garden.

If you have a more “natural” yard like mine and you don’t mind a pit or two in your landscaping, choose a spot that’s a bit out of the way but still well within the boundaries of your yard.  You don’t want a spot too close to your fence in case the pit leads to a tunnel under the fence!  If you don’t want to dig into your existing landscaping, building or buying a wooden sandbox or large planter box is a good solution.  Make sure that anything you buy to use is either low enough to easily accommodate your dog or sunk into the ground far enough to make it an accessible height.  You want to choose something that is a reasonable depth – at least a foot or more for larger dogs.  If your dog is continually hitting the bottom, he’s more likely to look for another spot that more closely satisfies his need to dig deeper.

If you have anything other than a toy breed, choose a box size or dig a pit that is about ½ the body length of your dog in width.  Toy breeds can probably handle a pit that’s as long as their body!

Dogs are attracted to the smells present in freshly turned earth, so that’s a natural choice for your pit “fill”.  However, if you live in a wetter climate, dirt quickly turns to mud so mixing it with sand or using all sand is a good choice too.  If you use sand, you may have to find ways to make it extra smelly to compensate for the fresh earth odor.  I like to include fresh bark mulch in my fill, as that is the one thing that will cause my dogs to want to roll on someone’s lawn when we’re on our walks!

If you have a dog who has a short coat or the “easy to clean” northern breed types of coats, consider adding some “clean” manure from a garden centre – just a small amount will make the pit extra smelly and attractive without doing the same for your dog.

To keep the pit interesting, find and bury toys and items that your dog loves that can also survive being left for days buried in the dirt.  Dry dog cookies, rubber kongs with cookies in them, beef chews, balls all work well.  Bury them at various depths for your dog to find.  I will often bury raw bones that my dogs have already been working on – for some reason, the several days-old bone found in the dirt is endlessly appealing.  (Never feed cooked bones or the processed and smoked bones found in some pet stores – these can easily splinter and cause a lot of internal damage.)  A couple of kongs full of dinner kibble would be a great thing to bury – feeding dinner and providing mental activity and entertainment at the same time!

What also seems to keep interest high is to keep putting the dug out fill back into the pit for them to dig up again.

The Training

Management is a critical component in the success of a digging pit.  In the early stages of training, you need to be in the yard whenever your dog is in the yard to ensure she has no access to dig elsewhere.

As soon as you go outside with your dog, immediately show her the pit, begin digging a little in the pit yourself and praise heavily when she shows any interest in it or begins to dig with you.  Keep the pit well stocked with things to find at first – there should be a double reinforcement of digging AND getting treats or toys for using her pit.

If your dog goes to another area and is preparing to dig, immediately redirect her to her own pit.  Keep your re-direction upbeat or neutral – not punitive.  Simply call her over or go get her on leash and bring her back to her own pit.  Re-engage her in her pit and praise extravagantly for her renewed interest in the appropriate location.

If your dog keeps going back to an “illegal” digging spot despite numerous neutral redirections to her own pit, you can provide a short consequence – I generally use “3 chances then you’re out” rule.  An appropriate consequence would be to put your dog on leash and take her into the house for a brief “time out”.  Again, keep it neutral and quiet – no correction or anger is necessary.  After maybe a 5-minute time out, she can come back and start the process all over again.  Make sure that you very quickly dig over any areas that get started “illegally” – even temporarily covering them with something heavy and hard to move like bricks or a garden chair will help prevent access to that spot when your back is turned.

In the early stages of training, don’t leave your dog alone when they are digging in their pit.  Dogs most often want to share yard time with us rather than being alone out there.  We don’t want to send the message that digging in the “right” spot means we leave the yard but digging in the “wrong” spot brings us right back out.  Hang out in the yard with your dog while she’s digging – companionably gardening or reading.  Occasionally tell her how wonderful she is and frequently wander by to drop a treat surreptitiously into the hole for her to find.

Update on Quincy and her barking:

Since my last article, we have been working on Quincy’s tendency to bark at any and all foreign noises or sights.  She has improved immensely and we’re down to the bigger challenges of the sights of my nearest neighbours in their yards and their kids playing.  Most of the kids around us are very good and don’t deliberately tease.  However, there is one behind us that insists on barking back at the dogs.  Her parents seem to think that’s okay, so that will continue to be a challenge to overcome – moving is probably not an option at the moment!  The Look At That Game is working well but it will take longer as the triggers are closer and random – so there are good days and less good days.  We’ve also discovered that chipmunks are our friends and any bird is fascinating to watch, but squirrels are the deadly enemy to be chased off at all cost!  We’re still in the early stages of teaching her “Quiet” on cue.


Healing Horses…Naturally

Grass – Feed With Caution

By Marijke van de Water

Horse eating grass

Grass is the most natural thing a horse could eat, right? Surprisingly this is no longer true, although it used to be; today our horses eat a very different type of grass in the pasture. Pasture grasses, particularly cool weather grasses such as brome, timothy and orchard grasses, are much higher in sugars and also contain fructans – a low fibre, modified sugar which horses cannot easily digest. Fructans were introduced into our grass crops over the last two decades to fatten beef cattle and to increase dairy milk production but this “magic” ingredient for cow farmers has had a seriously damaging effect on our horses and grass is now implicated in several equine health conditions.

Sugars and starches are normally digested with enzymes in the small intestine. But when sugars and starches are ingested in excess the small intestine cannot digest them all completely thus any mal-digested feed is now passed on into the cecum in the hindgut for fermentation. However, the only food group that should be fermented in the cecum is fibre, from where horses get most of their energy. The cecal fermentation of sugars and fructans therefore causes abnormal levels of gas production (often causing colic), heat and lactic acids – the acids destroy beneficial bacteria (probiotics) but are favoured by harmful strains of bacteria such as Salmonella, Streptococcus, and E. Coli as well as yeast cells. These pathogens then produce a variety of different toxins that are very damaging to the colon walls. This cocktail combination of gas, heat, acids and toxins is known as cecal acidosis, a condition that not only permanently disrupts the natural balance of microflora, but damages the intestinal lining of the colon making it abnormally permeable.  Known as “leaky gut syndrome” the damaged colon allows the migration of bacteria, yeast, acids, and related toxins to leak across the membranes, out of the colon and into the general body systems affecting the liver, kidneys, heart, muscles, joints, immunity, and the ever sensitive lamina hoof tissue – high sugar/grass diets are the leading cause of laminitis in horses. Leaky gut is also a factor in arthritis, skin conditions, digestive disorders and poor immunity.

High sugar-carbohydrate and fructan diets from grass are also the primary cause of insulin resistance. Liver and muscle cells are lined with receptors that allow the sugars to enter and convert to glycogen, the storage form of sugar. Normally these receptors are prompted to open with insulin, a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. However, in the case of insulin resistance (Equine Metabolic Syndrome) the receptors no longer open and the sugar is forced to be stored as fat instead. Thus the insulin resistant horse or pony most often presents with fat pads and/or a crested neck. Insulin resistance leads to obesity, poor immunity, fatigue, joint pain, hormone imbalances including Cushing’s disease and the ever-prevailing laminitis.

Some horses can also experience digestive problems transitioning from hay to grass or grass to hay which indicates that they are not efficiently fermenting the fibre or digesting the sugar. Because hay and grass differ in types of sugar and starch as well as moisture content they each require different species of fermentative bacteria. This is why a horse’s diet must always be changed over slowly, so that the different species of friendly bacteria (probiotics) in the hindgut have time to adapt rather than die off. The process of fermentation is accomplished with billions of units of various strains of bacteria. To support this dietary transition, especially if horses exhibit symptoms, horses should be supplemented with probiotics. Horses, perhaps more than any other species, rely on a high level of probiotics to maintain a balanced ecosystem in the gut. A deficiency of probiotics can cause bloating, colic, diarrhea, leaky gut, bacteria and yeast infections, poor immunity, unhealthy weight loss or gain and/or vitamin deficiencies. In all cases of digestive problems, colic, leaky gut, weight loss or gain, insulin resistance and laminitis (whether they are on grass or not) the hindgut should be replenished with live bacteria. A good probiotic should be refrigerated to maintain maximum potency. Riva’s Remedies Pro-Colon is kept refrigerated right up to the point of shipping and is specifically formulated for horses.

If your horses are heading out on grass for the first time be sure and introduce them slowly. It is best to start them with twenty to thirty minutes of grazing for the first two or three days and then gradually increase by twenty to thirty minutes every day until they are up to four to five hours of grazing time. This generally takes ten to fourteen days. The best grazing times are early in the morning and later in the evening when the grass is lower in sugar. How much grass grazing a horse can tolerate is variable and depends on breed, level of exercise, lifestyle, health history, grass type and the local climate. Some horses cannot be free-grazed at all while most others should be limited.

And whereas hay is lower in sugars than grass because of the cutting, drying and baling process, sensitive or “at-risk” horses fed hay cut from these high sugar pasture grasses can also develop metabolic and/or hoof laminitic problems.

The Healing Crisis

The Healing Crisis and Why That is a Good Thing.


By Dr. Kim Bloomer, C.V.N.D., N.D.


In natural healing, often your pet will appear or seem to be getting worse rather than better. The good news is this is normal and often referred to as the “healing crisis” or detoxification.

More and more caretakers are opting for more natural, holistic ways of caring for their pets. The growing frustration with conventional care which often includes pharmaceuticals, pesticide-like prevention medicines, and vaccines, are driving pet caretakers to look for a more excellent way to bring not only a quality of life to their beloved pets, but to bring it more abundantly the way God originally intended.

You’ve probably taken the following steps to start your pet on his or her path to optimal health:

  1.  A natural raw or homemade diet
  2. Eliminated over vaccinating
  3. Are supporting your pet’s immune system with good nutritionals, enzymes, probiotics
  4. Switched from conventional preventions for heartworm, fleas, and ticks to more natural methods using essential oils, herbs, etc.

These are all critical steps to take to ensure your pet’s overall good health. However, after a few weeks or even months, your pet may start to have worse symptoms or appear less healthy than on conventional care. Take heart because this is usually normal and part of the healing process. The best thing is for you to remain diligent and steadfast in your decision to continue the natural care your pet really does need to thrive and not just survive. This sudden onset of symptoms is commonly known as the healing crisis or a state of detoxification.

Symptoms to look for in a healing crisis

Just remember that our society has taught us that symptoms need to be attended to or suppressed immediately. We don’t like discomfort and neither do our pets. Unlike us though, our pets seem to understand the need to allow symptoms to manifest in order to get at the root of what is ailing them.

Natural healing doesn’t mask symptoms although they can be eased. Natural healing also isn’t always instantaneous or fast as we’ve falsely come to expect in conventional care. True healing can take time because the focus is on the cause to eliminate the “dis-ease” or illness altogether and permanently. Conventional care often only masks symptoms and drives them deeper into the body where they will eventually manifest with a much deeper root problem resulting often in nearly irreversible disease.

Your pet’s healing crisis and its duration will all depend on:

  1. Your pet’s age.
  2. How long your pet was unhealthy before you decided you wanted to try a natural approach to health.
  3. Your patience and not using a conventional/chemical means of eliminating the symptoms.

It is far better to ease symptoms with natural support and then go after the cause or root of the problem in order to completely eliminate the disease altogether.

Some of the symptoms of a healing crisis will often appear to be nearly identical to the actual disease or illness you have been trying to heal in your pet.

Depending on the symptoms and/or illness your pet was suffering prior to switching him/her to a natural protocol, the following are examples of symptoms:

  1. Skin allergies; excessive scratching, licking, biting, itchy skin
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Vomiting
  4. Ear infections
  5. Eye discharge
  6. Anal sac problems
  7. General lethargy

And so on. The list is as varied as the diseases and illnesses. The key here is to remain vigilant in your care and keep in close contact with your holistic veterinarian to help guide you. This can be a long process as the body is ridding itself of all the toxins which are actually causing the symptoms to resurface.

The cleansing process which IS the healing crisis

By feeding your pet a more natural diet (especially raw), his/her body is now able to assimilate nutrients it can use and desperately needs. That means your pet’s immune system can finally get all the valuable and essential nutrients in order to have the fighting power needed to remove the toxins out of the body. Before you provided your pet the nutritional support through proper feeding, his or her body was barely in survive mode. Now your pet can really begin to thrive!

As the cleansing and purifying process begins, the stored wastes and toxins in your pet’s body start to be broken up, pushed through the blood stream and eliminated. This cleansing process starts to accelerate now that the immune system and eliminative organs are more efficient. As a result, the stored toxins are then being released at a faster pace than the eliminative organs –kidneys, liver, lungs, skin, etc. – can remove them from your pet’s body. Now your pet is in a healing crisis. This can actually appear to be more intense than the actual disease or illness your pet was suffering from prior to your transition into natural care. While it is temporary and necessary, the patience of you, the caregiver, is the deciding factor in seeing it all through.

Often times, the caregiver will be tempted to give into the symptoms and give the pet an antihistamine, antibiotics or, even steroids. Doing this will only prolong the natural and true healing process since these “medicines” actually work at suppressing the immune system. The immune system is the key to good health in your pet. Now that it is finally able to work properly, allow it to do its job of ridding the body of the toxins and “dis-ease” through its natural course.

Duration of the healing crisis

Each pet is as different and unique as we are so it stands to reason each will react differently to healing and detoxifying. Several things will determine the length and severity of a healing crisis:

  1. Age
  2. Health prior to starting on a natural regimen
  3. How long your pet was fed a less than desirable diet
  4. How many vaccinations he/she has received in their lifetime
  5. What types of medications were given and for how long
  6. What types of “prevention” medicines were given and for how long
  7. How much damage has been done to the genes through vaccines, kibble, pesticides, etc., including what damage has been passed on through the DNA from these same things.

Some pets will experience no symptoms and transition very easily into a natural health regimen while others will have severe symptoms. Everything is dependent on the individual. Remember these symptoms are just a reminder that the body is working diligently to remove the toxins from your pet’s body.

Most will show a healing response within a month or two. However, from what we have observed, the average length of a healing crisis, followed by the evident increase in health, is one month for every year of life. This isn’t set in stone but is a guideline for you. The length of treatment seems not only proportional to your cooperation and patience, but to your calmness and acceptance of what is going on in your pet’s body.

None of us wants or likes to see our best fur friends suffer, so the good news is there are some natural means of supporting your dog’s immune system and easing some of the symptoms of the healing crisis. These will not interfere with the cleansing process that is taking place. Ask your holistic veterinarian to help you in determining your best course of action to help see your pet through this process and to ease symptoms.

Exceptions to this rule are if your pet:

  1. Goes off his/her food for more than 24 hours
  2. And/or maintains a high temperature for more than a day or two

Immediately seek the advice of your holistic veterinarian.

This article is not long enough to cover all the factors involving a healing crisis, but we hope you’ve learned enough here to stay the course and finish the healing race your pet needs for his optimal health. Also we encourage you to continue your own research into natural care for your own health and the health of your pets.