Category Archives: Training and Obedience

Seeing Success

How you define success determines its existence; it doesn’t exist until you learn to see it. Success is critical to dog training, but like the mechanics of training, seeing success is a skill that requires development – both in definition and process. Whether or not a person can acknowledge success and what they expect it to look like has profound implications for the outcome of and commitment to training.

In which scenario is this little person most likely to succeed?


Criteria and Success Continue reading Seeing Success

Sniffer Dogs Program

Scent detection is an up-and-coming sport that’s seen a recent surge in popularity in Canada. The goal is to teach your dog to search for a particular scent, and then alert you to its location. The scent can be hidden anywhere from in one of multiple containers, to an interior room, a vehicle, or the outside of a building. This is a great way to mentally exhaust your dog, and truly learn to appreciate the unique abilities of our dogs.

The training taught in class is similar to what is used to teach working detection dogs, including bed bug dogs, border patrol dogs, conservation dogs, and drug dogs. There are also some similarities to other scent sports, such as tracking and search and rescue.

This is a fantastic way to tire out your pooch, and your dog will love it!

Program Details

LIVE Virtual Sniffer Dogs Level One
Starting Tuesday Oct 5th 8-9

Including Scent Kit: $290+HST
NOT including Scent Kit: $275+HST
* It is highly recommended that you select the scent kit option unless you live in a location that prohibits you from picking up the kit from the school in Guelph. If you assemble your own kit you will be responsible for ensuring that you have ALL components in time for your first class. Contact the office for details.

A recording can be provided a missed class if you alert the office ahead of the class date. Please plan to attend all classes.


  • Prerequisite behaviours, taught with positive/clicker training
    • Hand Target
    • Zen/basic leave it with food in hand
  • Materials
    • Training supplies as outlined in your handouts.
    • A Scent Kit, as outlined above
  • If you have not attended classes at Scratch and Sniff Canine Services, please review the above prerequisite behaviours and contact the office, and view the free Orientation Webinar prior to starting class.

If you have questions, please contact the office prior to enrolment.

COVID-19 Precautions (not applicable to virtual formats)

  • Masks that cover the nose/mouth and without vents are strictly mandatory when indoors and sanitizer is provided, as directed by WDG Public Health. No vented masks or bandanas.
  • Small group class size and limited attendance – one handler per dog
  • Frequent cleaning and disinfection of the premises
  • Social/Physical Distancing in effect

Book your spot now!

Contact the office with questions before registration

  1. Complete the registration form below, and check your email for instructions
  2. To confirm your spot: payment must be made within 24hrs via Email Money Transfer to

Positive Training and Animal Advocacy: A Catch 22?

Marc Bekoff is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado and an animal rights advocate. He’s a high profile ethologist who uses his position of influence to better the lives of animals: captive, domestic, and wild. Bekoff was invited to present at the Professional Animal Behaviourists Association conference a couple years ago. In one of his excellent lectures he addressed the subject of animal rights and welfare, a topic in line with the theme of the conference that year. He was advocating a vegan diet for his dogs in the name of the welfare of those herbivores that could have ended up dead and in the dogs’ bowls. In the Q&A I asked him what might be used as a primary reinforcer, and particularly how to pursue counter conditioning, if we are not to use animal products in training. His suggestions involved cantaloupe and crackers.

Continue reading Positive Training and Animal Advocacy: A Catch 22?

Is That a Russian Physiologist on Your Shoulder, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

His name is Pavlov. Ivan Pavlov. And he’s watching you…

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov first documented Classical Conditioning – learning through association – at the turn of last century. While researching processes of digestion, Pavlov found that the presence of the researchers in their white lab coats created an increase in the study dogs’ saliva production. This effect redirected Pavlov’s intended research, when he realized that he had stumbled upon something previously undocumented. Pavlov discovered that a Conditioned Response, an uncontrollable bodily reflex such as salivation, could come to be elicited by a neutral stimulus (something that has no inherent meaning), such as the ringing of a bell. Conditioned Responses also include emotions – joy, fear, irritation, relaxation, etc. The crux of Classical Conditioning is that these responses are not controllable through conscious intent; rather, they are reflexive. Continue reading Is That a Russian Physiologist on Your Shoulder, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Tracking and Scent Detection Seminar

Elsie is wiped after two days working at the seminar!!

At the beginning of the month I attended an absolutely saturating series of seminars. Friday through Sunday were lectures on the topic “A Scientific Presentation and Study of Working Dogs” presented at the University of Guelph by Professional Animal Behaviour Associates. Topics included Urban Search and Rescue, canine ergonomics, conservation strategies involving working dogs, demos by Canadian Border Control, Animal Assisted Therapy, welfare of working dogs and more.

Immediately following was a two-day workshop by Steve White, Karen Pryor Academy faculty member and Seattle Police K9 Unit handler, trainer and supervisor. Day one focused on HITT (hydration intensified tracking training) and day two focused on scent detection skills. Elsie worked both days.

Continue reading Tracking and Scent Detection Seminar

Arlo's Smeller

I’ve been feeling neglectful of Arlo’s brain these last 20 months since adopting Elsie. Since she is so much more reinforcing for *me* to work with, Arlo fell into a sort of retirement at the ripe old age of 7. I’ve done a little bit of tracking on grass with him, but never really took it past a track on the odd weekend morning. I went to a nosework seminar several weeks ago, and I think I finally found an activity that will work for us both! (Meaning: Arlo gets to sniff and poke stuff, and I don’t have to lay and age tracks. It’s less fun than it sounds.) Nosework is the foundation of other very practical activities (that can turn into paid jobs! I will tamper my aspirations for the time being.), such as detection of bombs, narcotics, termites, and bedbugs as well as search and rescue.

Conveniently, Mirkka Koivusalo at Mindful Behaviors happened to announce a Scent Skills class starting soon after that workshop. I signed Arlo up and we just completed our second class this past week. The Scent Skills class is geared more along the lines of tracking in that it focuses on the indication of a human-scented article rather than an essential oil (as in nosework).  Otherwise, the process can be trained similarly.

Continue reading Arlo's Smeller

Rally Trial, January 14, 2012

Someone needs a nap, those are her ‘tired ears’. Elsie with her Novice Title ribbon and two Q/placement ribbons

I just got in from our second rally trial, this time at the Red Barn Event Centre in Barrie, ON.  It’s a really nice venue (though I drove past it three times before I finally found it!) and, like my previous experience at The Poodle Farm, the event organizers were lovely and helpful.  It was a very small trial with 5-7 dogs each in Novice and Advanced, probably because of the cold weather (-22C with the windchill). Continue reading Rally Trial, January 14, 2012

Hi Yo Squirrel, Away!!

Don’t anyone tell Elsie she’s an old lady!

One year ago, Elsie was picked up as a stray in Etobicoke by Toronto Animal Services.   I retrieved Elsie from TAS as a foster for Speaking of Dogs – I was going on vacation in three weeks and thought “No way I’ll want to keep an 8yo shepherd! No problem taking on a foster now…” – but as the story so often ends she became a “failed foster” and took up permanent residence.

I don’t know what her life was before that, but I have no doubt that she had a damn good time chasing wildlife once she hit the streets! All last summer the bane of my existence, and the glory of Elsie’s, were the squirrels in the parks, the cats on the fence in the yard and both critters during neighbourhood walks.  If Elsie thought she may perhaps just might have seen a bit of movement, or heard a little noise, that may have been a cat or squirrel her brain would disappear into an alternate universe.  She would freeze, stiff as rigor mortis, and her eyes would go completely blank as she stared (and sometimes drooled). The other half of her reaction to critters was full-out hurling herself toward the suspected Squirrel Zone, sometimes screaming like I was killing her, and also running backwards like a crayfish, just about popping out of her collar (this is why she wears a sighthound martingale collar). While there were some squirrel-safe parks, other parks were off-bounds because she would disappear into the forest in hot pursuit of her fluffy-tailed friends.  She would not only tree the squirrels, but also chase them from the ground as they ran through the leafy canopy 50ft above.

It’s easy enough to say “work at a distance, wait for her to look back at you and click and feed attention.”  Sure, the basics are there.  Decrease distraction with distance, mark and reinforce a desirable behaviour. But I had to ask myself: what on earth could I have possibly offered Elsie that was more potent than a squirrel, even at a distance?

The Answer? A squirrel, of course.

Continue reading Hi Yo Squirrel, Away!!

Rally Trial, June 26/11

We just got home from trialling at The Poodle Farm, and I am knackered.

Elsie is pleased with her two Q ribbons and her 1st place ribbon

Yesterday Jen (partner), Nancy (friend) and I packed up Arlo, Sophie and Elsie into Bernard (tiny green car) and drove two hours to Debby DaCosta’s wonderful facility outside of Vanessa, ON.  The trial started at 8:30 this morning, and we weren’t too keen on leaving the house at 6am to get there on time! We pulled in around 7pm to be welcomed by Debby and Al and directed to a grassy knoll behind the barn to set up camp for the night. I was glad to see the lay of the land before the stress of the trial the next day. The trouble is that sleeping moments were few and far between, interrupted by various dogs, outside noises, uncomfortable bedding, cold, and poorly-folded sweatshirt-pillows.  For some reason, not so restful as camping usually is!

Continue reading Rally Trial, June 26/11

Getting ready to Rally!

I’ve finally entered Elsie in a CARO trial, coming up on June 26th.  I’ve been working a lot this week (since I registered!) on getting the stand on cue, as well as more stimulus control on positions.  Despite my earlier work on fronts, I need to do a little more on getting the front smoothly from moving in heel position (call front signs).  I take a step back in the video, which isn’t a problem for CARO, but I’d rather not have to. Earlier in the training session she was coming in very crookedly, as well.  Other than that, I just need to remember how to read the signs and not screw up all my subtle (or not so subtle) body cues, which would totally throw Elsie off in the ring.  I am liking her heeling, she’s got pretty good duration despite a fairly low rate of reinforcement.

I’ve entered three runs in Novice, and I’m hoping to get that title soon so I can get started on advanced.   I’m not competitive, I don’t think well under this type of stress,  and I don’t like performing… The behaviours in Novice are not particularly hard, but I know I’m going to screw something up bad when I get into the ring (read: and piss myself), so I think I won’t set my sights on coming out of this trial with a Novice title!!

So, here’s how things have been going: