Orientation Webinar

The Orientation Webinar is a free, no-obligation webinar that is open to everyone.

View as the prerequisite for group classes, a supplemental class for private training – or simply to see what we’re all about!

Register below to receive an email immediately with details and links to view, and you can get started in class immediately!

Get Started!

Register below by clicking on the bold date and receive full instructions via auto-email.  Contact the office if you don’t immediately see an email.


Note: The date noted is for admin purposes only. Select the bolded date and register to receive an email with full instructions on how to get started in class.

Behaviour Consultation and Private Training

Learn the least invasive, minimally aversive, positive reinforcement-based methods to resolve your dog’s behaviour problems. You are encouraged to view the free Orientation Webinar.


Behaviour Consultations

Emily, a certified dog behaviour consultant, will guide you through the resolution of your dog’s problem behaviours. Consults include discussion, demonstration and hands-on work with your dog, a completely personalized training plan, and ample resources and follow-up. See below for in-home travel restrictions.

For dogs who:

    • Have bitten or are at risk of biting a person, dog or other animal
    • Show aggressive or reactive displays in response to people, dogs or other animals
    • Panic when left alone/separation anxiety (bark, howl, house soil, drool, destructive chewing when alone)
    • Are fearful, scared or anxious in response to people, dogs or other animals
    • Are fearful, scared or anxious in response to sounds, objects, or storms
    • Are protective/possessive of/aggressive around food, toys, bed, or other objects (resource guarding)
    • Do not like to be touched, handled or groomed
    • Have other similar issues rooted in emotional distress

Private Training for Manners, Obedience and Puppies

Private training for manners and obedience is tailored to your specific needs. We will work on exercises where you need them in daily life with your dog, whether in your home, in the park, or your neighbourhood. Private sessions come complete with notes, handouts and follow-up. See below for in-home travel restrictions.

You are also encouraged to consider group classes, such as the Puppy Socialization and Life Skills programs.

For dogs who:

    • Ignore their owner and will not comply with requests
    • Will not come or stay when asked
    • Jump up to greet people
    • Pull on leash when out for a walk
    • Run out the front door without permission (door dashing)
    • Want to chase inappropriate targets
    • Puppy concerns, including nipping, teething, chewing, house training, crate training, alone training, socialization guidance, problem prevention, etc.

Training Services and Pricing

• Initial Session 2hr session

$185+HST

After completing this session, you may choose to continue with Single Sessions or the Package of Five. This session must be used within 90 days of purchase.

• Single session 60min

$100+HST

After completing the Initial Session you are welcome to purchase Single SessionsThis session must be used within 90 days of purchase.

• Package of Five – 5hr total

$450+HST (Save $50!)

After completing the Initial Session you are welcome to purchase a Package of Five at a discount.  All five sessions must be completed within six months of payment.

• Puppy Class Add-On 60min

$80+HST (Save $20!)

This session is available exclusively to current students of our Puppy Socialization Class and must be purchased and used before the official end date of your puppy program.




Behaviour Consultation and Private Training Purchase

  1. Contact the office for the behaviour questionnaire (alert us if you are outside of Guelph if you require in-home training)
  2. Read Private Session Policy and Private Training FAQ, and view the free Orientation Webinar.
  3. Purchase your session to reserve your appointment booking
  4. Schedule appointments directly with the office

*TravelService Area for dog training in guelph fees apply to a limited distance outside of this service area, contact the office to see if your home is within travel distance (if not, you are welcome to come to the facility).

Please read private session policy prior to payment. This page includes general information, policy, and waiver. The Private Training FAQ addresses frequently asked questions.

Paint Your Pet!

Next class: Check back Fall 2018!

For the first time, Scratch and Sniff Canine Services is hosting a Paint Your Pet workshop with the fabulous and versatile artist, Shannon Darch!

Spend an afternoon with other dog-lovers (and cat-lovers, and hamster-lovers, and fish-lovers…), painting a portrait of the animal you love most – your pet!

No artistic skill is required. Just send in a digital photo of your pet, and Shannon will be hard at work to create a beautiful sketch for you to complete in the workshop with the paints and tools provided.

Shannon will coach you in technique and other artistic decisions as you complete the painting.

Your choice of a cartoon-style, or a realistic rendering of your pet. See the gallery below for examples!

 

Shannon has been a professional artist, cartoonist, illustrator for over 25 years. She has created dog caricatures and portraits for clients across North America and a few in Europe. Shannon has done artistic work for some large dog companies like, Iams, Purina, Dogs in Canada, Superdogs, etc. as well as illustrating several children’s books. The Holly the Deaf Dalmatian series, The Davy Rule, and a few others.

Shannon started Paint Parties a year ago as a charity fundraiser and they’ve taken off! In her ‘other life’, Shannon is a dog trainer and works at a training school in Burlington, and performs with her dogs in WoofJocks Canine All-Stars.

Check out more of Shannon’s work and participant’s finished paintings through her Facebook Page and the gallery below! Registration at the bottom of the page.

Registration Info

You’ll be provided with a custom sketch of your pet, paint and supplies, artistic instruction and snacks.

This is a “people-only” event, thanks for leaving your pets at home! There will be snacks and refreshments provided. Refunds are not available for this event, double check your schedule prior to registration!

  1. Complete registration below and review your confirmation email
  2. Send a digital photo of your pet to the office at the absolute latest.
    • Photos should be in focus, well-lit and close-up. This is the image you’ll be painting!
    • For a cartoon painting: Send a clear head shot and full body profile
    • For a realistic painting: Send a clear, close up head shot.

Next class: Check back Fall 2018!


“My Dog is SO STUBBORN!”

How often do you think “My dog is so stubborn!”? Or maybe you hear that from friends and family. Usually we describe dogs as being “stubborn” when things don’t go our way or the dog doesn’t immediately do what we want him to do.

But is this really a helpful way of describing a pet’s behaviour?

“Stubbornness” is a character trait or temperament, and it is far more applicable to human behaviour rather than animal behaviour. In terms of developing a strategy to train your dog, it’s a dead end. When you think to yourself “my dog is so stubborn!,” just put down the leash, step away from the dog, and hit the drawing board to think through what is actually happening.

Confusion

Think back to a time when you were given instructions and were left feeling unsure of exactly what you were supposed to do. Or maybe you confidently proceeded to do what you thought you were instructed to do – only to find out that you had done it completely wrong! How helpful would it be if your instructor had blamed you and called you stubborn? If your dog doesn’t comply with your request, she may simply be confused about what you want from her.

Motivation

Behaviour always serves a functional purpose. This means that dogs always have a reason for what they do — even if you’re unsure of what that reason is. This might mean that your dog has a good reason not to comply with your instructions – and it’s your job to find out what is motivating that undesirable behaviour. Similarly, if you don’t provide any motivation for your dog to do what you ask, your dog is unlikely to comply.

Problems with motivation can also be linked back to confusion. Even if you’re using the best treats, you will find that your dog will stop working with you or even show problematic behaviour like barking or jumping if she’s confused. Confusion is an unpleasant feeling, and most of us want to avoid feeling that way. This may come across as your dog appearing “bored” or “stubborn.”

Health Issues

It’s not always obvious when a dog is feeling unwell. Many owners don’t consider that their dog’s problematic behaviour is caused by pain or another physical ailment because the ailment is not immediately apparent to them.

Consider the following: “My puppy can’t have a urinary tract infection. He can hold it all night and there’s no blood! He just gets mad at me and pees on the floor when I leave the house.” Or “I know my dog isn’t in pain because he doesn’t whine or yelp. He stops on walks because he’s stubborn.”

Medical problems in dogs very often show up as behavioural symptoms. Training can never fix a medical issue, but sometimes health care can fix a behavioural problem.

Sometimes feeling unwell isn’t as serious as an infection or pain. Sometimes a dog is hungry, tired or even just mentally fatigued. While most dogs always seem to be hungry, there is a difference between eating food because it’s delicious and eating food to relieve the discomfort of a growly stomach. Over-training can be a problem for some people (and their dogs). Working a dog for too long will result in mental fatigue, which can sometimes make an owner think that their dog suddenly doesn’t want to work, that she isn’t trying hard enough, or that she is “stubborn.”

Now that you know some of the reasons why your dog my appear to be acting stubborn, what can you do instead?

Find Out What Is Reinforcing to Your Dog

Think about motivators as a “pay scale.” Would you go to work if you didn’t paid? Even if you love your job, you still need to buy food, pay rent – and buy dog food. Your dog will have a similar pay scale when you’re asking her to do something that is otherwise not appealing to her.

Here are two things to keep in mind: First, have you used reinforcers that are valuable for your dog? Or are you asking your dog to do something without giving him a reason to do it? Second, what is motivating your dog to do the problematic behaviour? What is he getting out of doing that behaviour or, alternately, what unpleasant thing is he avoiding by doing that behaviour?

Learn About Body Language

Don’t jump to conclusions about how your dog is feeling or why she’s behaving a particular way. When you find yourself throwing around a label like “stubborn,” pause for a moment and think critically.

What body language are you seeing that makes you want to call your dog stubborn? Often, dogs who are showing appeasement behaviour are labelled “guilty.” (Dogs show appeasement behaviour to prevent aggression in the other person or dog by indicating “I am not a threat.”) Dogs who are highly stressed and lack social skills are often labelled “dominant.”

Owners sometimes grossly misinterpret their dog’s body language, leading them to mislabel their dog’s behaviour. As a result, they may take the wrong actions to solve the problem.

Control the Environment

You can control your dog’s behaviour by controlling the triggers that cause the problematic behaviour. For example, if your dog greets people crazily on the street, can you give him more space while you work on the problem? You and your dog will succeed more quickly if you tackle the problem while it’s still minor, rather than ignoring the early signs and throwing your dog into a situation he can’t cope with. If you can control your dog’s triggers, you’ll find that the “stubbornness” will dissipate.

Change Your Dog’s Emotional Response

“Stubborn” dogs are often experiencing lots of feelings that they don’t know how to handle. Misinterpreting this emotional state as the dog intentionally trying to get your goat is unhelpful at best, but it may actually escalate the problem. Your dog isn’t trying to give you a hard time; your dog is having a hard time. A little empathy can go a long way to helping you find a solution.

Seek Help

Seeking help from a qualified professional shouldn’t ever be a last-ditch effort. Find a positive reinforcement–based trainer to help you wade through your dog’s problematic behaviour to find a practical solution. Also, your veterinarian may be able to identify a health problem that could be contributing to behaviours that you may interpret as stubbornness.

Our dogs can be frustrating at times, but labelling a dog “stubborn” will never lead you to a solution to a behaviour problem. Leave the labels at the door and take a step back. Assess why your dog might be doing something, don’t disregard the potential of a health problem, and look closely at how your dog is feeling. Critique your assumptions about your dog, and you’ll have a much easier time actually fixing the problem!

More Than Obedience

A young woman came to me with her German Shepherd, Wheels. At less than a year old, Wheels had already bitten a half dozen times, with increasing severity. Wheels’s owners called up her breeder to seek help and express concern at his behaviour. Her breeder told her, “Wheels just needs to learn to stay and heel, if you teach him better obedience he won’t bite.”

This ill-conceived advice is ineffective, at best. At worst, it’s downright dangerous.

Obedience training is like woodworking: taught properly, it’s enjoyable, enriching, and has some useful results (a pretty table leg, a dog who walks politely).

Behaviour modification is like therapy. The objective is to manage and resolve deep-seated issues like anxiety and depression. Carving a nice table leg is of minimal benefit!

Just as you wouldn’t sit down with your woodworking instructor to talk about past traumas and current struggles, dogs in need of behaviour modification work can’t fully benefit from obedience training. Wheels needed a very different approach.

Understanding the difference between behaviour modification and obedience lies in understanding the mechanisms through which animals learn. Consequences are critical to learning, but we often place too heavy an emphasis on them and don’t fully understand how they function. Consequences are defined by their results – in other words, if you attempt to punish a dog and the dog continues to do the behaviour you intend to stop, you’re not actually punishing the behaviour! Whatever you’re doing as “punishment” – shouting, collar corrections, pinning the dog – is likely scary or painful, yet the dog isn’t making the necessary correlation for it to be an actual punishment.

Obedience training is based heavily in consequences. Obedience training that is enriching and valuable for a dog is based in positive reinforcement, such as dispensing food or toys or providing access to something your dogs wants as a reward. There is no punishment. However obedience training’s value is limited by its specific focus on the dog’s behaviour – whether  to reinforce “good” behaviour or punish ”bad.”

Understanding how behaviour fulfills an emotional need is critical to assessing problem behaviours and assembling an appropriate training plan. All this rests primarily on how associations are formed and, most importantly, understanding this as a largely unconscious and uncontrollable process. Behaviour that is born of emotional turmoil is not behaviour the dog can easily control, and thus is not subject to “obedience training.”

This explains why Wheels can have excellent leash manners when walking down the street with no other dogs around, but when he sees a dog he barks, lunges, and drags his owner down the street and continues to do so even after the other dog is long gone.

Wheels is triggered to an uncomfortable emotional high by the sight of the other dog, and even after the dog is gone his sympathetic nervous system remains engaged in a “fight or flight” response. This leash pulling may look like an obedience issue, but really it’s a much deeper issue.

A woodworking instructor can help you detail your table leg just so, but she can’t help you overcome OCD or an addiction. Woodworking can also be an enjoyable hobby to help you de-stress, but it is not the root of a therapeutic approach. Obedience training can help an owner give their dog valuable structure, but it does not, in and of itself, resolve behaviour problems.

A behaviour consultant, just like a therapist, understands how behaviour is a reflection of an emotional state as well as the intricacies of how that emotional state is reflected in an animal’s behaviour. Just like a therapist recommending woodworking as a hobby, a behaviour consultant may use obedience trained with positive reinforcement as a secondary strategy to get to the emotional root of the problem, but that will not be the sum total of the training.

Rather than focusing on stay and heel with Wheels’s owner, we focused on developing his ability to emotionally self-regulate in the presence of dogs and implemented strategies to help him recover after the turmoil of encountering a dog, creating a relaxed, calm, and positive association, and cultivated a sense of safety. We didn’t punish any “bad” behaviour; instead we got to the root of the problem behaviour through changing Wheels’s emotional state and associations with other dogs.

 

Do you need help with your dog? Let us know!

Canine Tutoring

If you:

  • Are feeling over-whelmed by training responsibilities
  • Have more intention to train than time and energy to do it
  • Want to kick start your training, but need more support than coaching alone
  • Have a new puppy and are feeling over-whelmed by the pressure of socialization duties
  • Or maybe you just want your dog to learn new things and experience the enrichment of training while you’re at work!

… Canine Tutoring is right for you!

Also known as “Day Training” or “Walk and Train”, a certified professional trainer and behaviour consultant will work one-on-one with your dog while you’re at work, out with the kids or running errands. Transfer Sessions will keep you up-to-date and coach you on how to maintain and apply your dog’s new skills in day-to-day life.

Canine Tutoring can take place in your home, in parks, in your neighbourhood – where you need your dog to respond! A review of your concerns and goals will allow us to lay out a schedule that best suits the assessment.

Canine Tutoring can address:

  • Puppy needs, including socialization experiences
  • Manners and Obedience, such as pulling on leash, recall, general distractibility, learning basic obedience behaviours
  • Enrichment and “brain training” to give busy dogs a productive outlet

At this time, Canine Tutoring is not available for behaviour modification for issues of reactivity/aggression. Training for this type of issue is available through private behaviour coaching.

What Canine Tutoring IS:

  • A quicker route to the training results you want to see in your dog
  • A certified, professional trainer and behaviour consultant will work directly with your dog to help you reach your training goals
  • Giving a bulk of the leg work of training to a professional while you work on application and maintenance in day-to-day life
  • Transfer Sessions will teach you the skills your dog has already learned and are a critical aspect of keeping your training on track

What Canine Tutoring IS NOT:

  • It is not a dog walking, pet sitting or potty break service
    • Your dog will have opportunity to relieve him/herself, however scheduling will be based on trainer availability
  • It is not a total escape from all training responsibilities
  • It is not a suitable service for management-intensive or owner-directed problems (e.g. separation anxiety, owner-directed aggression, or management-based issues of housetraining, etc.) See Private Training and Behaviour Modification options.

How to Get Started

  1. Contact the office with your address (where your dog will be located for sessions) and an overview of your goals for Canine Tutoring.
  2. Review the Canine Tutoring Program Information Document and Contract and Fees Document.
  3. Complete the Intake Questionnaire. This link will take you to a Drop Box file where you can select a Pages or Word document to fill out.
  4. Book your Intake Session by emailing the officeThe fee from this session will act as a deposit toward the cost of the Canine Tutoring Package.

Contact the office if you have questions about whether the Canine Tutoring program will be a good fit for your needs. This service is available only to residents within Guelph city limits.

Which Program is Right For You?

Check out the information below, and view the Orientation Webinar – as your first class of a group program, a supplement to private sessions, or just to check us out.

Look at these testimonials from past students, and learn more about our unique and flexible class enrolment.

I HAVE...PROGRAM SUGGESTION
I have a puppy LESS THAN 5moThe Puppy Socialization Program is right for you! We cover manners, obedience, and – most importantly – socialization activities to prepare your pup for a smooth transition into adulthood. The flexible class schedule allows you to mix’n’match your class days.

Those in the Puppy Program are eligible for a 20% discount on Private Training for the duration of their program.
I have a FRIENDLY dog over the age for puppy class The Life Skills Class is right for you! Manners and obedience, with a flexible curriculum that allows you to build on prior training or jump right into your first class. Prevent embarrassment from jumping on guests, teach the ever-important come-when-called, and more. The flexible class schedule allows you to mix’n’match your class days.

Do you prefer one-on-one instruction, or you have a very specific training goal? Private Training is the best route for you.
I know the basics, and want to do fun stuff with my dog! Check out our Specialty Classes. These classes are all about training for fun and enrichment - including Training for Distractions, Sniffer Dogs, Rally Obedience, the Brain Training Series and more. Keeping your dog's brain active is as important as keeping her body active, which means your dog can settle more easily and not make "her own fun"... we all know what THAT means...
My dog is fearful, aggressive or reactive toward DOGS Private Behaviour Consultations with a Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant will get to the root of the issue and relieve you from embarrassing or even dangerous behaviour form your dog.

The Control Unleashed Group Program may be an option for dog-reactive dogs. Let’s talk and see if this program could be right for you!
My dog is fearful, aggressive or reactive toward PEOPLE A Private Behaviour Consultation with a Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant is the route to go so we can pinpoint the issue and train in the locations that matter most. Minor problems can quickly grow into major problems, so let's get to work to ensure everyone's safety and comfort.
My dog is fearful of or aggressive toward me or my family Private Behaviour Consultations with a Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant will allow us to keep everyone safe, and thoroughly assess and treat the underlying causes of your problem. Aggression toward family can be scary and hurtful, even when no one is physically hurt. Let's make your dog a loving part of the family again.

Don’t see your issue here? Contact the office and outline your concerns, we will help!

Managing a Multi-Dog Household

As seen in the October 2017 Speaking of Dogs Newsletter.

Having multiple dogs can be a wonderful experience, but when things go wrong it can be stressful for everyone involved. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to cultivate good relationships between dogs in a multi-dog household.

Our homes are essentially very confined spaces containing limited valuable resources, and we give our dogs no choice in housemates – this can be a perfect storm. There are a lot of arguments for allowing dogs to “work it out” or “enforce the pack hierarchy,” and these arguments have a very basic flaw, as they assume the infallibility of “The Pack.” While the myth of the pack isn’t something we’ll get into here, I’ll touch on some very practical tips and considerations for helping multiple dogs live comfortably in our homes.

The Needs of Existing Dogs

Owners often introduce a puppy into the home with an aging dog, who is perhaps past the period in life where he is interested in going to a rave and body-surfing into the mosh pit. But this may be what the new puppy wants to do, and she will drag the old guy along for the ride! For some older dogs, a puppy puts a new spring in their step and they play the very important role of auntie or uncle dog. Other older dogs become stressed and reserved or even lash out at the puppy – and the last thing a young puppy needs is a bad experience with another dog!

It is critical for an owner to understand and respect the wants and needs of the existing dogs in their home. Use barriers to give older dogs all the space they need from the puppy, and slow the integration between a new dog and an existing dog. Some existing dogs may not be elderly but are behaviourally or emotionally sensitive and need a very gradual integration of a new family member in order to prevent stress and conflict.

You may know the new dog is here to stay, but your existing dog had no say in it! When adding a new dog to the home, always take the needs of your current dogs into account. Some dogs actually prefer, or even need, to be an only dog! Finding a well-matched dog will greatly reduce the risk of conflict in the home.

Multi-dog Walks

Walks may be most easily executed one on one. Particularly with a new dog, you may find that you have a lot of training to do on walks, whether it be for basic leash skills, or for reactivity or fear that emerges as they settle into your home. Using a no-pull harness can be to your advantage if you choose to walk multiple dogs together.

Individual Training Time

Individual training time is critical for all dogs in the household. Positive training is great for cultivating a healthy relationship between you and your new dog and maintaining one with your existing dog. Take each dog to a separate area individually to practise training and teach new skills, and leave your other dog with a chew or stuffed Kong to keep them busy while they wait their turn. Individual training time becomes even more important if you find yourself working through behaviour problems such as reactivity, fear, or aggression.

Individual Play Time

Similarly, find time to play with each dog individually. Integrate play throughout your individual training sessions as well. Structured one-on-one play is a great way to teach impulse control and build a relationship with your dogs. Playing fetch with multiple dogs chasing one ball is rarely a good idea, as it can provoke resource guarding of the ball or create so much arousal in the running dogs that the excitement tips over into a fight.

Hot Spots for Conflict

Be aware of “hot spots” (or “hot times”) for problems between cohabitating dogs. As a general rule, there is potential conflict any time there is

  • a desirable resource (e.g., bully sticks, food, toys, access to a person);
  • limited space (e.g., narrow hallways, doorways, behind furniture, beds, and couches);
  • a mismatched activity (e.g., one dog is resting and the other wants to play); or
  • high arousal (e.g., on the way out the door, leashing up for a walk, getting ready for feeding time).

Mitigate potential for conflict by being conscious and watchful during these situations. Be proactive to prevent these potential trouble spots from escalating into conflict.

Separation as Prevention

Make a habit of feeding dogs in separate areas, whether it is meals, stuffed Kongs, or chews. This should be a solid rule for any new additions to the home, and it is recommended for long-term management as well. You might feed in crates, use a gate to separate the dogs, or, for small apartments, you can even feed a dog in the bathroom with the door closed.

The same recommendation applies to leaving dogs alone while you’re at work. Err on the side of caution, and leave your dogs in separate areas. Alternatively, you can crate one or both of the dogs, assuming they are comfortable with this type of confinement.

Problems typically arise long before fights break out in the home, and seeing the subtle signs can take excellent observation skills on the part of the owner. If you’re seeing obvious conflict between dogs in your home, you may be missing much of the lead up to the incidents. If you’re currently having difficulties, seek out a reputable, educated positive-reinforcement-based trainer with skills in behaviour modification to guide you.

How to Read Your Dog's Mind

This article appeared in the Nov 2016 Speaking of Dogs Newsletter.

How to Read Your Dog’s Mind

Last night, I read a dog’s mind. His owner was working on recall, training his dog to come when called. I suggested, “Billy is going to notice the person sitting over there on his way past and is going to want to go say hi. I want you to recall from a closer distance and angle away from that person so he’s further away.”

Guess what? The owner made a mistake and didn’t angle away from the person… and Billy recalled half way and then ran up to the person sitting across the room to say hi.

Billy’s owner said to me, “Did you read his mind? How did you know he was going to do that?”

In a sense, I did read his mind… and you can too!

Look Where the Dog Looks, Notice What He Notices

The most critical element of “mind reading” is to look where your dog looks and notice what he’s noticing. Dog’s don’t rest their gaze on things for no reason, and you can learn a lot about what a dog is thinking simply by noticing what they look at, how long they look at it, how they look at it, and how frequently they look at it.

This is what I saw Billy do. As he passed by the person, he looked over, pulled his ears back, and gave a little wiggle. It took him about one second between noticing the person and disengaging, but it was a very telling second!

This is such a simple idea, but it can be hard to do in daily life. It takes a lot of practice to notice these subtle changes in your dog’s behaviour, especially brief glances and slight changes in body language.

What Has the Dog Done in the Past?

How your dog has behaved previously will give you a lot of insights. This is especially important for owners of reactive or fearful dogs, because there could be a lot riding on your ability to see patterns in your dog’s behaviour so that you can take appropriate action before a situation escalates.

Billy often looks at me in the same way he looked at the person he went to say hi to. I know that when he looks at me like that, he will greet me enthusiastically if given the opportunity. Given that pattern of behaviour, when I saw him noticing the person in the training area, I speculated that he would likely do the same thing he’s done in the past.

Body Language

Gaining an understanding of body language is a critical aspect to learning to mind read. Body language needs to be read in the context of the situation, your dog’s past history of behaviour, and each body part relative to the whole picture. For example, a fast wagging tail doesn’t necessarily indicate that a dog is friendly; it just indicates that a dog is aroused. It might be that the dog is excited to see you, but it might also be that the dog is angry or agitated. You can only know by looking at the whole picture.

When Billy looked at the person he wanted to greet, he dropped his head down and forward, crinkled his ears back, licked his lips, squinted his eyes, and had a soft, low wagging tail. I was not worried that Billy was going to run at this person angrily because his body language was typical of a polite and soft greeting. However, this body language also indicated that he was likely to veer off course from his recall.

An Emotional Assessment

Another mind reading strategy is to understand how your dog feels in any given situation. Strong emotion will always override your training, so training that is falling apart can be a good assessment of your dog’s emotional state. Your dog could be fearful or angry, happy, or over-stimulated. A few good tests of emotional state include:

• Will your dog eat treats? If they won’t eat, that is very telling of stress.

• Is your dog snatching the treats out of your hand or taking them gently? If your usually gentle dog is eating your fingers along with the treats, they’re telling you they’re feeling agitated.

• Is your dog taking the treat and scanning the environment, or taking the treat and asking for more? If they’re eating the treat but scanning around or walking away, they’re telling you that they’re feeling uncomfortable.

• Will your dog respond to well-known cues or hand signals? If they’re not responding to well-known and quietly spoken cues, they’re telling you that they need help to settle or need to work in a different environment.

If your dog is not feeling safe or calm, you can bet that you’ll see problem behaviours like barking and lunging or not responding to you. It’s critical that you take this as a set of “symptoms” of your dog’s mental state rather than see it as your dog being unmannerly or disobedient. Reading your dog’s emotional state is a critical part of mind reading.

Developing Foresight

What’s the use of mind reading if you don’t use that information to your advantage? Based on body language and knowing Billy is a young and social dog, I suspected that he would take the opportunity to greet the person in the training space. I therefore offered a modified plan for the recall. The owner was able to follow the direction on the next recall, and the dog performed beautifully.

Distance is very important to dogs. If they are bothered or excited by something in the environment, a primary way to diffuse this is to increase the physical distance between the dog and the distraction. And don’t be stingy! In a training session you can also look at what you’re asking of your dog. In Billy’s case, we shortened the distance of the recall and increased the distance from the distraction. You can also positively reinforce with food or toys. The more frequently you reinforce your dog, the more likely they are to work through a distraction. If you’re dealing with behaviour problems, like reactivity, fear, or aggression, I encourage you to seek guidance from a positive reinforcement trainer qualified to work through behaviour problems.

If you notice what your dog notices, read their body language accurately, and see this in the context of your dog’s past behaviour, you’ll be able to modify your training to help your dog succeed. Your dog’s success is your success, and your dog’s failure is your failure. Learning to “mind read” will benefit you both!