Stay the Course! By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP

In Partnership With Dogs


Recently I’ve noticed an alarming trend in the dogs and humans that I’ve been working with. When some kind of behavioural issue or alarming behavioural change suddenly appears in their dogs, many owners are feeling compelled to abandon their original, positive training plan. I’m not sure why this is happening with such increasing regularity. Are people panicking and being swayed by “helpful” advice from friends or random strangers? Are traditional training methods (outdated but still stubbornly persistent) the cause? Could the myths and misinformation readily available all over the internet and social media be too much to ignore? Or are “reality” TV dog shows a source of the push to change direction?

I understand that a sudden change in your dog’s behaviour, especially if it seems to be aggressive, can be really scary. It can immediately cause you to doubt your original plan – what happened to my friendly puppy? The point of this article is to provide you with some supportive information and to encourage dog owners to take a deep breath and . . . Stay The Course.

You’ve chosen the path of positive training for a very good reason:
You may not even be conscious of choosing this path but your gut instinct was that this was the right way for you and your dog.
You may have done a little or a lot of research and discovered that positive training has a long history and plenty of research to support it’s effectiveness.
You may have heard from your veterinarian that all the major Veterinary Medical Associations and Humane Societies worldwide promote positive training methods as the only effective way to train dogs.
You may just know someone with a really nice dog and this is the training they chose.

New puppy Sherman just starting his training career

New puppy Sherman just starting his training career

Of course there are exceptions, but generally, one of 4 things tends to cause a sudden (or what may appear to be sudden) change in behaviour.

1. Physical injuries or an undetected illness of some kind.
This should be the first thing you investigate. A change in behaviour may not be behavioural at all but caused by pain or discomfort and this can usually be determined by a visit to your vet.

2. Something scary happened.
Sometimes things just happen that are really scary and it’s easy for us to understand why our dog would find this alarming and why it might have a long-term effect (abuse, harsh training, an attack by another dog or wild animal, being in a car accident, etc.).

Sometimes, though, things happen that we may not be aware of, or we may not be aware of the effect it has on our dogs. You would think that we should know if something has happened that scares our dog – but that’s not always the case. Maybe your dog was startled by something that barely registered to us. Dogs that come from a background of little or no socialization or even dogs who are particularly sensitive often find ordinary things very scary. The sights, sounds or even smells of random things like garbage cans, loud vehicles, vacuums, balloons, lawn equipment, seasonal lawn decorations, cigarette smoke, skunk odor (yes – even strange smells can be cause for alarm), etc. can be incredibly frightening to a dog already convinced the world is quite unsafe for them.

Many dog owners have other people involved in the care of their dogs – dog walkers, daycare workers, groomers, veterinarians, pet sitters, boarding kennels, etc. What if they don’t notice or think to tell you about something that has happened to your dog while in their care? Another alarming possibility is that there are numerous accounts in the news of dog care “professionals” who are using shock collars and extremely punitive handling methods without the consent or knowledge of the owner.

I worked with a dog once who had his tail stepped on by his pet sitter who was taking off her coat and stepped backward without noticing he was there. She was wearing high heels (ouch!) and his tail was very badly injured. That one incident caused this particular dog to become very aggressive toward someone as soon as they took of their coat – even though he was fine with them with their coat on. That seems pretty extreme – certainly the resulting behaviour was.

We have to keep in mind that we can’t possibly know how another being perceives an incident or how or why it has a particular effect on them. Even another human who we can converse with easily, can’t fully explain how something feels to them in a way that allows us to feel exactly what they feel. Certainly we will have even less success understanding the effect on a being we can’t converse with.

Punitive events often cause unforeseen associations to form – hence the very real danger of punitive training methods.

3. Early, subtle signs were missed.
I’ve met a lot of dogs who have probably been fearful since they first came into their homes (maybe from birth), but nobody really noticed or thought it was a problem. Signs of fear in dogs can be very, very subtle and not immediately obvious to an untrained eye. Also, human nature tends to believe that with enough time passing, dogs (and people) will just “get over it” as they age and mature or have enough exposure to the situation. However, in most cases, left unaddressed or unacknowledged, the fear continues and almost always begins to escalate.

Time moves on, the dog starts to mature into adulthood (or get comfortable in a new home) and suddenly the subtle signs are not so subtle. I often describe the change in behaviour we see in this situation as the dog “turning up the volume”. If, in your dog’s mind, no one is helping him then he needs to “get louder” – use bigger behaviours to help himself.

Take the situation where a dog seems to suddenly become reactive and aggressive on leash where previously he may have just seemed excited and pulled a lot. All along, this dog may have been concerned and worried about the approach of strange dogs. Nothing has changed to alleviate his concerns, so he needs to take matters into his own paws to make the situation better – beginning to act aggressively on leash. Reactive dogs often seem to be saying “keep your distance until I have a chance to see if you’re safe or not!”

4. We haven’t trained long enough.
Often I encounter people who may have taken a puppy class with their young puppy, but that was it – training complete. Once their young puppy was house-trained, appeared to be friendly and “problem-free”, they stopped training and just went on with their lives.

What many people don’t seem to realize is that your young dog is still growing – not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally until they are 3 or even closer to 5 years of age for bigger breeds. The stage of adolescence (from approx. 6 months to 3 years old), is a second critical training period and is often the time when many problem behaviours can come up. Dogs in this age group continue to go through periods of fear and uncertainty. At this stage, any sort of traumatic or scary event could effect their long-term behaviour if it’s not addressed quickly and positively. They are not mature, adult dogs until all this growing is complete.

If you have a breed who is historically a guarding breed or similar working type of breed, this period is even more important for you. You need to work hard to form a partnership that will help you work through the independence and general mistrust common in these types of breeds.

Don’t Panic, Don’t Stop Training and Don’t Change Course!
If you used an experienced, force-free trainer for your early training, they will be able to help you through whatever behavioural challenges you are now facing – get in touch with them.

If the trainer you used isn’t experienced with the behavioural challenge you are facing and they are responsible trainers, they will tell you that and refer you to someone who is.

Do your research:
Ask for references of dogs and owners who have dealt with similar issues to you and see what they say about the help they got.
Ask if you can watch a class or training session before committing to anything.
Ask for specifics – what types of things will the trainer be suggesting you do?
A good trainer will have many different techniques to suggest – not just one solution or one piece of equipment. All the techniques should fall within the same philosophy and guidelines.
Positive training may change course or techniques, but it should NEVER escalate or become forceful.

Every dog CAN be trained with force-free and positive techniques, and every problem CAN have a solution within the realm of positive and force-free training. There is simply no need to switch from Positive to punitive or forceful.

Not All Raw Diets Are Created Equal

By Sarah Griffiths, DCH, CPN.

With the rising popularity of raw diets for pets, new raw pet food manufacturing companies are on the rise. Just as with dry diets, not all raw foods are created equal. So how do you decide which foods to feed? Many of the negative stories you have heard about raw diet are a result of improper education, poor diet planning and poor quality foods. Below, are some of the key points you should take into consideration when choosing a raw diet for your dog or cat.

 Make the Right Raw Food Choices for Your Petcanstockphoto9736463

1.       Guaranteed Nutritional Analysis

When choosing raw pet foods, it is important to consider that the company has done proper food testing to guarantee the contents of their food. If a company is unwilling to provide this information, it could mean that the formula is not consistent. In this way, you could end up feeding your pet an unbalanced diet without even knowing it. It is also impossible to gauge the quality of ingredients being used if there is no analysis. If a meal consists of chicken with bone and vegetable, the ratios of these ingredients can vary considerably between brands depending on the sources of foods being used. You must be able to determine the percentages of protein, fat, moisture, fiber, calcium, and phosphorus. Furthermore, do not assume that because a company has analysed their formulas that the formulas are balanced. Take the time to compare analyses from different companies to determine the highest quality and most balanced foods.

2.      Whole Poultry Vs. Poultry Carcass/Back and Necks
When selecting a raw diet for your pet, it is extremely important that you know whether or not the company uses whole poultry in their ground formulas, backs/necks and carcass or a combination of them. Each of these foods has a different nutritional value and will determine how you will balance the other foods in the diet. If a nutritional analysis is available, it may help you to determine what foods are being used. The type of poultry used will determine the amount of lean red muscle meat you will need to feed to balance the diet overall. It is important to know the balance of muscle meat, fat and bone of the poultry you are using. Do not assume that a company uses whole poultry. Many don’t.

3.      Red Muscle Meat Vs. TrimLiver Photo...canstockphoto5331092

The quality of red muscle meats will vary considerably from brand to brand depending on the cuts of the meat used and how the animal was raised. Some raw pet food companies only purchase the trim which is extremely high in fat and low in protein. It is not equal to a lean muscle meat that you would buy for yourself at the grocery store. Trim is what is left after the grocery stores, butchers and restaurants take the prime cuts of meat. For long term feeding, it is not suitable. The nutritional analysis will reflect a high fat content if trim is being used. A disproportionately high fat content in the diet is a very unhealthy thing indeed. A consistent diet exceeding 12-14% total animal fat is not a balanced example of a natural diet. Lean meats range from 2-8% fat. Where red meats are concerned, high fat content usually means that a large proportion of trim is being used, especially if it exceeds the amount of protein listed.

4.      Price Vs. Quality

Do not automatically assume that a cheaper price means you are getting more bang for your buck. The only reason a raw pet food can be cheaper than another is because of the quality of the ingredients used. If human grade cuts and products are used, the price will be higher but you will need to feed less of it and therefore, your cost will be reduced accordingly. If only trim and carcass are used in the diet, the price will be cheaper but you will, likely, run into nutritional imbalances down the road. This may, unfortunately, include an increase in vet bills. A diet high in fat and low in muscle meat is not a healthy diet option for your pet and will not make your pet cost you less. Quality of raw foods will directly determine the health of your pet. Health determines the cost of your vet bills over the course of your pet’s lifetime.

5.      Education and Knowledge 17951990_ml

Does your pet food provider understand how to balance a raw diet correctly? What type of training or experience have they had to do this? What type of educational materials can they offer you? A good raw pet food company will have knowledgeable staff who are easily able to inform you about the healthiest options for your pet, how to balance their foods correctly and will be able to offer you quality educational materials to read. If they can’t provide you with the answers, then what is going into their products?

6.      Touring the Manufacturing Facility

Ask the raw pet food companies you are considering using to allow you to tour their facility. If they are opposed to this, it is a red flag! As a pet owner, you have a right to know how your pet’s food is being processed and handled before it gets to their bowl. Safe food handling is an important aspect of preparing a raw diet. Make sure that the foods you feed come from a reputable source where FOODSAFE standards are being implemented. The FOODSAFE Program is a comprehensive food safety training program designed for the food service industry. It provides standards for handling food that is fit for human consumption. While it is not mandatory for a raw pet food company to follow these standards, wouldn’t you agree that it’s important? It lays out the guidelines for safe handing, packing and freezing of products so that bacterial and parasitic contamination does not occur. It ensures that the diet is as close as possible to its natural form when it gets to your pet’s bowl. For more information on FOODSAFE, visit:

Let’s keep the standards high!

What is Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation?

By Dr. David Lane DVM

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Veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation therapy (VSMR) is the newest specialty to become available for pets. On the human side, sports medicine specialists are primarily concerned with treating serious athletes. On the veterinary side, the specialty is much broader. It combines sports medicine with rehabilitation therapy (the veterinary equivalent of physiotherapy) and is applied equally to couch potatoes, geriatrics, and weekend warriors, as it is to competition, working, or otherwise athletic dogs.

The non-surgical treatment of musculoskeletal pain draws from many disciplines, including chiropractic medicine, physiotherapy, acupuncture, pharmacology, regenerative medicine, conventional veterinary medicine, and massage. On the human side, most of these fields are kept separate even though they often use overlapping techniques. On the veterinary side, practitioners may focus on only one technique or they may be trained in multiple disciplines. Some fields, such as regenerative medicine, can only be practised by licensed veterinarians. Other fields such as chiropractic, or rehabilitation therapy are open to either veterinarians or specifically trained non-veterinarians including chiropractors and physiotherapists.

Although the original diagnosis of your pet’s problem needs to be made by a veterinarian, that veterinarian might prescribe treatment to be provided by a non-veterinary professional. For example, few veterinarians are in a position to provide an hour long massage for your pet (without it becoming very expensive), so they might instead recommend you see a specifically trained canine massage practitioner instead. Therapeutic exercise programs are often handled this way as well.

Who Needs VSMR?ranch redneck sleep

VSMR seeks to diagnose and treat any dog who is suffering from painful or restricted movement. This means any dog that is limping or moving abnormally, or can no longer perform physical feats that he or she used to. A common early sign of trouble is a reduced ability to jump into the car – a dog that now hesitates before jumping, or jumps onto the floor before moving onto the seat.

Dogs with any sort of lameness issue, especially issues that are subtle or are proving hard to diagnose, benefit from a sports medical exam. Even dogs with a known diagnosis such as arthritis, benefit from sports medicine techniques. Some of the treatment may be directed at the arthritis itself, perhaps by using joint injections and/or regenerative medicine, or treatment may be directed at the rest of the body so that it can better compensate for the arthritic joint(s).

Geriatric dogs are often afflicted with multiple painful musculoskeletal issues that can substantially limit their quality of life. For many of these patients, the VSMR treatments they receive are key to relieving pain, resulting in an improved quality of life and ultimately an increased lifespan.

Competition and working dogs are big proponents of VSMR techniques. Agility dogs in particular were a driving force behind the growth of this specialty. Experienced handlers immediately know when their dogs are not performing 100%, and often detect lameness issues far earlier than the average pet owner. Many of these dogs have subtle muscular lesions that traditional veterinary education programs rarely discuss how to diagnose or treat.

Dogs that are recovering from major surgery or have suffered physical trauma, also benefit from VSMR techniques. This is where rehabilitation medicine shines, both to resolve secondary pain issues, and to develop specific exercise programs to speed recovery and prevent recurrence of injury. Dogs afflicted by non-surgical neurologic disorders, or who are recovering from neurosurgery also fit in this category. We are now learning that many injuries that were always thought to be surgical problems in the past, can now be resolved by non-surgical methods.

Lastly, VSMR techniques can be incorporated into a wellness or preventive medicine program. Competition dog handlers know this better than anyone. Targeted exercise programs are an effective way to prevent sports injury. Many lameness issues develop slowly over time. They may suddenly become apparent one day, perhaps after a minor run or fall, but the seeds of injury were likely planted long before. Only after the dog was unable to compensate for these seeds, did the issue become apparent to the owner. These are known as “repetitive stress” or “cumulative trauma” injuries, and when they are detected early, treatment is often simpler and less invasive.

What signs should I look for?

nora and richard in uniform
The following is a partial list of what to look for as indicators of musculoskeletal pain:

Changes in mood or attitude: Decreased willingness to play, or reduced interest in things that are happening in the surrounding environment, sleeping more, fearfulness or irritability. Many of these changes happen as dogs get older, but in many cases it is also a reflection of pain. Not all dogs tell you when they are hurting; some just become quiet and withdrawn… they look like they’re sleeping but they’re not.

Changes in posture: Carrying the tail differently, changes in the backline, sitting on one hip or rolled back more onto the pelvis, shifting off of one leg, one foot less splayed than the others, holding the head or ears differently. Dogs don’t change their posture without a reason. It they used to stand, sit, or lie in a certain position but don’t anymore, then they may be experiencing some degree of discomfort.

Changes in movement: Any reduction in movement or athletic ability, stiffness after exercise or rest, hesitating before jumping into the car or negotiating stairs, no longer completing a head-to-tail “wet dog shake”, staggering or incoordination, weakness, scuffing nails, limping, asymmetric movement when walking or trotting, moving around the house less, flinching or dropping away when getting touched or petted, popping weaves, stutter stepping, knocking bars, wider than usual turns… the list goes on and on.

You might have noticed that all those categories started with the word “change”. If you are used to your dog standing, moving or acting a certain way, and that changes then it is prudent to first make sure that they are not in pain.

How do I find a VSMR practitioner?

The first step in treating your dog’s problem is to get a diagnosis, and that requires a veterinarian. Working with your regular veterinarian is a good first step. If he/she is unsure of the specific diagnosis or treatment options for your pet’s problem, then request a referral to another veterinarian more experienced in VSMR responsive conditions. Most veterinarians will volunteer that referral.

Not all VSMR techniques require a veterinary referral, although this varies province to province. For instance, in most places you can book an appointment with a massage practitioner without a veterinary referral. However, the best place to start is with a precise diagnosis, and then pick the most appropriate treatment option based on that diagnosis.

In selecting a practitioner, please ensure that they are graduates of comprehensive canine specific education programs. Veterinary chiropractors should have graduated from an AVCA recognized program. Rehabilitation therapists should have graduated from an ACVSMR recognized program. Acupuncturists should have graduated from an IVAS or Chi institute program. Massage therapists also must have had extensive training over many months. Veterinarians with specialty DACVSMR status have the most comprehensive training in this field, training that includes all of the above modalities.

Next month, in part II of this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of each therapeutic option, and where they can be best used for your pet.

Agility: The Fastest sport on four legs! By Tim Renneberg

What began as an exhibition of tricks at the grand-daddy of all dog shows has blossomed into the most exciting and entertaining of canine sports. Practiced by thousands of dog/handler teams across Canada, and millions of teams in dozens of countries around the world, agility is recognized as one of the foremost athletic competitions.DS4_9696
Dog agility got its start as an intermission spectacle at Crufts, the famous obedience and conformation show in England and quickly spread. Equestrian shows on both sides of the Atlantic also used agility demonstrations as a means of keeping audiences entertained between their main acts.
Having done away with some of the more spectacular – and dangerous – obstacles that were better suited to circus demonstrations (ring of fire, anyone?), agility has developed into a comprehensive athletic test of a dog’s intelligence, speed, power and yes, agility. Dogs race against the clock, negotiating obstacles such as hurdles, tire jumps, tunnels, see-saws, A-Frames and the incredible weave poles, among others.
Far removed from the trick demonstration of old, agility championships draw dogs from around the world and attract thousands of spectators to the stadium, with many more watching on television and online.DS4_9147
In Canada, dogs of all breeds (including mixed-breed dogs) can compete in their regional championships – including the B.C./Yukon regional championships June 5-7 at Thunderbird Equestrian Show Park in Langley – and thereby qualify for the national championships under the auspices of the Agility Association of Canada (AAC). The 2015 AAC championships are scheduled for Aug. 19-23 at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby.

Formed in 1988 in Ontario, the AAC was the first Canadian sanctioning body for the sport and, with thousands of dogs involved in AAC competitions, is the largest agility organization in the country. Originally formed as the Agility Dog Association of Canada, the AAC opens its events to all breeds of dogs, including mixed-breed dogs. Although working breeds excel at the sport – herding breeds such as border collies, Belgian shepherds and Australian kelpies are popular choices among agility handlers – AAC events have seen everything from two-pound teacup poodles to enormous Great Danes, and everything in between.

While the national and regional championships are the AAC’s showcase events, local clubs host titling events – or trials – across the country. A perfect illustration of the sport’s growth: at the beginning of the century, a BC handler could attend about one trial a month and attend about two-thirds of all the trials in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Now, there are often three or four trials each weekend just in BC. Far removed from the 25-dog trials hosted in a quiet farmer’s fields in the 1980s, world championships now see thousands of spectators pack arenas, with many more watching on TV and online.

On the course: Jump!

Agility is a judged event, but there are no points for style (and some handlers are pretty relieved about that). Rather, it’s all about performance. Racing against the clock, dogs take direction from their handlers, who are usually running to keep up. A lightning fast Jumpers run (see a description of the games below) can sometimes see a dog cover nearly 200 yards with twists, turns, and 20+ obstacles in less than 30 seconds. Don’t blink!

Most of the obstacles are jumps, and the rule is pretty simple: go over the bar between the jump standards and don’t knock the bar over. Knocking a bar costs the team five faults. In addition to single-bar jumps there is also a double-bar jump and a jump called the ascending spread jump with as many as five bars.

The height of the jump is determined by the height of the dog: the smallest dogs jump 10 inches while the tallest dogs jump 26 inches. In the middle are the 16 and 22-inch heights. In competitions, dogs are matched against others jumping similar heights. In addition, the AAC has a “Specials” category, intended for dogs for whom their “Regular” jump height would be an unfair challenge – dogs in Specials jump one jump height lower. And there is also a “Veteran” category for dogs more than 7 years of age. Veterans are allowed lower jump heights and more time to complete the course.

On the course: other obstacles

Of course, agility is more than just jumping. There are several other types of obstacles dogs must negotiate on course.
– Tire jump; a suspended hoop, meant to simulate jumping through a tire. The tire jump is set at the dog’s jump height
– Tunnel; 20-foot tunnels, either straight or bent into C or S-curves
– A-Frame; just as it sounds, two nine-foot long, 36-inch wide planks elevated at approximately 45 degrees from horizontal. The dog must run over the A-frame, touching the yellow “contact zone” on the down ramp.
– Dog-walk; a 36-foot long, 12-inch wide plank set up to resemble a long bridge. The dog must run over the entire walk, touching the yellow “contact zone” on the down ramp.
– See-saw; like the child’s playground toy without the handles! This test of a dog’s confidence requires the dog to touch the yellow “contact zone” at the bottom of both the up ramp and the down ramp.
– Weave poles; a series of either six or 12 vertical poles, 24 inches apart; the dog must enter the series of poles on the right and weave between each pole. Getting the entry wrong or having to go back and start again costs the team five faults each time.

The games and how they’re played

At championship events, dogs and handlers compete in three separate games, with two of each game played over the course of the weekend. Scores from each of the six games are aggregated and the team with the most points wins in their jump height.


Standard agility is a set course, with the course laid out by the judge. Dogs must complete each obstacle in order under the direction of their handler. All the obstacle types are in use in a standard run.


The dog/handler teams start with 100 points. If they go through the course without any faults, they earn 100 points plus a bonus equal to one point for every second they complete the course under the allotted time. If they receive faults – five faults for knocking a bar, five faults for running past an obstacle and 20 faults for taking obstacles out of sequence – they lose one point for every fault and they also lose out on that time bonus. So one knocked bar could be the difference between a 130-point run and a 95-point run. So Fluffy needs to keep those bars up!


Jumpers is similar to standard in that it is run on a set course determined by the judge. The key difference is that courses only include jumps, tunnels and a tire jump. Jumpers runs are lightning fast.

Scoring: Jumpers is scored similar to standard, except that teams start with 75 points and lose points for faults or, if they run fault-free, earn bonus points for time.


Gamblers is a test of the dog and handler’s ability to communicate, especially from a distance. Rather than a set course, handlers have 40 seconds to direct their dog to whatever obstacles they like, with dogs earning points for every completed obstacle. Jumps earn the dog one point, tunnels two points, the see saw, dog walk and A-frame three points and the weave poles are five points.

After 40 seconds, a whistle or horn sounds and the dog must then attempt the “final gamble” which is a sequence of three to five obstacles that the dog must complete while the handler is at a distance of as much as 20 feet away. If the dog completes the final gamble within the allotted time – usually around 20 seconds – the team earns 35 points on top of what they earned in the opening 40 seconds.

In addition to the games being used to crown regional championships, the June 5-7 regionals will also include a game called steeplechase, which is similar to jumpers, but with the addition of an A-Frame and weave poles.

It sounds like fun and games, but it’s far removed from the mere demonstration of tricks in 1978. The B.C./Yukon regional agility championships will draw more than 300 dogs from B.C. to the Thunderbird Equestrian Show Park in Langley.

If you have never attended before here is map of the area. From Highway 1 Exit #66. Access_overview