NILIF

“Nothing in life is free.”  NILIF.

Sounds like a rather cynical – albeit accurate – worldview, doesn’t it?

And while that may be one instance of the phrase, another is actually a dog training philosophy: when it comes to our relationship with the dog, nothing in life is free.

When first considering the concept, I realised that it’s a principle I’d often been employing without using that specific term.  My dog has to wait patiently for his food.  He has to perfectly execute a long-distance sit-stay to receive praise.  He has to be calm to receive affection.  He has to sit nicely at the door while I get ready before we go for a walk.  He has to be calm and obedient and walk nicely before he gets free “go play” time.

No, things are certainly not free for my dog, but I really don’t think he’s that distressed about it.  (Admittedly, the cats are governed by something much closer to EILIF – everything in life is free – and I suspect implementing otherwise would result in a revolt of epic proportions.)

At the base of it, NILIF is all about setting clear rules, guidelines, and expectations, and then following through with them.  Happily, my dog caught on quickly as a puppy, and very well knows that he’s going to do a sit-stay in the kitchen for a few minutes while we prepare his food and before he can eat.

Of course, provided my dog thinks about things the same way, he might be of the opinion that nothing in life is free for me, either; I don’t get the good behaviour out of him that I prefer unless I have consistently proved that I will make it worth his while.  So perhaps nothing in life is free for either of us and it’s a symbiotic give and take.

And the same may also be true with respect to undesired behaviour.  If my dog acts like a jerk, he will not get away with it – it will not be free.  Say, for example, he breaks a sit-stay.  I will then replace him and usually restart the clock if I’m going for a specific duration.  As far as my dog is concerned, this is a bad consequence, because he’s already shown me he’d rather be doing something else.  On the other hand, say I am practising recall with him, and fail to give praise when he comes into me – then maybe he will determine that the next time he’s not going to come when I call because I failed on my end of the bargain in the past.

Neither good nor bad behaviour is free for either of us: the good is earned and rewarded, and the bad comes with a negative follow-up of some sort.

The general principle NILIF works around is that we’re asking the dog to do something that is not rewarding in itself (i.e. a sit-stay), but then we follow up with offering something with a higher value as a reward (i.e. praise, food, play time, or even just more favourable body language).[1]

For those in the know, this is similar to the Premack Principle, which is the idea that we’re withholding access to something the dog views as inherently good in order to get the dog to follow our commands.  My dog learns that when I begin to prepare his food, that’s a cue for him to sit politely and calmly in the kitchen, rather than get in my way and try to get to the food as soon as possible.  He gets what he wants because of me, not in spite of me.  In return, I get desired behaviour.

Of course, even though NILIF fans stress it’s a “way of life” and not a training technique, I think we can all see the immediate benefits it will provide when it is applied to training.  And, like anyone discussing dog training and behaviour, there are critics.

Those opposed to NILIF simply say it’s cruel: it doesn’t allow a dog to just “be a dog”, because we are controlling every aspect.  Nothing is free for the dog to do or determine on its own.  They suggest this is stressful for the dog and basically creates a prisoner with Stockholm syndrome.

I disagree with the critics and agree with Kelly Gorman Dunbar’s response:

…NILIF makes life extremely predictable and controlled, which a dog’s mind craves and understands; that’s why it works so well. And while it’s true that a NILIF dog doesn’t have free control over his life (really, what pet dog does?) it does afford the dog clarity of consequences and consistency in the form of control over access to resources via his behavior; and that’s the point really.

As for the idea that NILIF causes stress, well, not all stress is bad. I’m not of the mindset that stress should be avoided at all costs. Just abuse. Some amount of stress is not only good, but also unavoidable in life. Ultimately, clarity and consistency actually reduce stress and makes a dog’s life easier, so it’s better than an environment of no rules, unpredictability, and lack of clear communication that many dogs live with due to human foible.

No form of training to fluency is stress-free. The truth is most science-based or so-called “positive trainers” (how I hate that term!) do use some degree of withholding in order to manipulate the dog’s environment, but mainly by using life rewards over food to enhance training and proof distractions. Most dogs still get free belly rubs and runs in the park too.[2]

On the Stockholm comment, I would also argue that NILIF does not make you the jailor and your dog the prisoner.  Leader and follower, perhaps.  Aside from my previous note that it does seem to involve compromise on both halves, NILIF teaches dogs to look to us for the things they want and need:  food, exercise, affection, play.  This is not unrealistic or cruel, because as a dog owner, you actually are in charge of all of these things, among many others.  Bringing your dog’s attention to this fact is not a bad thing.

Say, on a walk, your canine sees other dogs having play time in a park across the street.  Perhaps in a non-NILIF household where the dog has not been taught expectations, the dog would just make a beeline across the road enthusiastically, exercising its desire to go play.  Dangerous?  Absolutely.  And not just because of the road, but also because the owner isn’t given the opportunity to assess the other dogs and their owners, and make a safe call about the situation.

Using the same hypothetical in a NILIF context, it is possible that your dog will see the others playing and then check in with you, their leader, first, before simply bolting across the street.  The dog knows play time comes from the owner, and may fully expect to have to walk over there calmly and practice some patience before being allowed to play.  The owner is also given the opportunity to control the dog across the roadway, and assess the dog’s future playmates and the environment generally.

After exercising a NILIF-type routine, the dog will learn that the things he or she wants (and could previously have taken for “free”) come from you, the leader and guardian.

Of course, it is important to note that anything taken to the extreme is dangerous, and it is possible that someone could take a skewed, fundamentalist view of NILIF and turn it into a restrictive policy that borders on abuse.  The same can be said about almost anything, but it’s important to include these disclaimers even if just to give pause.  NILIF does not intend to create dictator-like dog owners who have an iron fist gripping all of the resources, but rather a benevolent leader who has the means to look out for the dog’s best interests and is able to draw out favourable behaviours in all sorts of situations.  You can implement NILIF and still shower your dog with affection, treats, toys, and playtime.  It’s all about balance.  The added NILIF element – that the dog has to do some work first – can ensure your dog is not spoiled and unruly.

And as the benevolent leader, it’s up to you to make sure the dog knows where the expectations lie, and never withhold necessary resources that are essential to your dog’s health and wellbeing.  Yes, a calm sit-stay is perfectly acceptable before allowing your dog to eat, but as the owner you have to be realistic.  If you are just starting out, perhaps all you will get is one minute (or less) of patience from your dog as he stares hungrily at his food.  Consider that a starting point for the both of you to build from, and don’t starve your dog because he can’t hold his stay indefinitely.

Returning again to Ms. Dunbar, who I think says it best:

I think what’s important is to keep in mind the dog’s physical and mental well being and to train as kindly and clearly as possible while still efficiently getting the job done; because good training is what keeps dogs happy, safe, and in their homes and that is the ultimate goal.[3]

The starting point for Moses’ solid sit-stay was ensuring him that he’d be adequately praised for a job well done.

[1] http://www.dogstardaily.com/blogs/nilif-nasty
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

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Your “Doodie” Duties

Your “Doodie” Duties

That I have determined that this topic qualifies as a legitimate blog entry seems ridiculous, does it not?  Then again, we have also reached the point where apparently even we humans have necessitated the installation of automatically flushing toilets in public facilities, so maybe not.  In fact, this is apparently such an epidemic that there is actually a National Scoop the Poop week in August.  Who knew?  And what about the other 51 weeks?

The bottom line: if your dog does a “number two” while on a walk, pick it up.  Simple?  Sure.  Unpleasant?  Yep.  Do it anyway.

As a dog owner, it’s your responsibility, and it is also probably mandated by some by-law in your municipality.  Be prepared and always leave the house with plenty of bags.

Until you train your dog to do this (or use a toilet), it's your responsibility.

I walk around my city often enough that I happen to know for a fact there is a good proportion of dog owners out there who still fail at this and set a very bad example for the rest of us.  And it’s these very folks that get locations such as city parks deemed dog-restricted areas.

Sure, as a first time dog owner, it’s not the most pleasant thing to have to do.  But after a while, you just kind of become immune to it to a certain degree and it’s no longer a big deal – it’s just another chore and a part of taking care of your canine companion.  You even get to the point where you actually find yourself having a discussion about dog poop with a fellow dog owner – how messed up is that?  But it’s true.  I guess it’s kind of akin to those new mothers and their similar discussions about baby bodily functions.  Although, at least the dog owners I know don’t share these conversations with the rest of the world via Facebook status update (you know who you are).

Vancouver, B.C.

We dog owners know it’s an especially lucky day if Fido happens to do his business within 100 metres of a garbage.  And then there are the days where you have to detour or find yourself walking for half an hour or more with a bag of dog poop.  Half an hour!  Thirty whole minutes!  We’ve all been there.

And what goes through one’s head whilst walking down the street with leash in one hand and bag-o-poop in the other?  First is humiliation, of course.  You’re carrying feces around in a plastic bag.  At the foundation of it, it’s pretty gross and pretty embarrassing.  Passers-by definitely give you the stink eye and take a wide berth around. 

Second comes an odd version of pride.  Strange as it sounds, the more people see you picking up the after your dog and carrying said waste to a proper receptacle, the more you are setting a good example for the dog-owning community and you know it.  People appreciate your diligence, and you can carry your bag around as a badge of honour.

And third?  You feel like a total badass.  Okay, maybe that’s just me.  On pretty much any dog walk, no matter the time of day or night or what neighbourhood I’m in, I generally feel pretty safe and secure with my man-sized dog walking beside me.  Sure, I know he’s generally happy-go-lucky, but the unknown stranger doesn’t necessarily know that, and sometimes I even lie about it when it’s convenient.  Not to mention, we all know any dog can bite in the right circumstances.  And I may be no criminal mastermind, but I like to think that the potential bad guy might think twice seeing a dog of his size walking down the street, regardless of how wussy looking the chick walking him looks.  But now add to the picture that the wuss is also carrying a big bag of poop.  Sure, it’s no revolver or set of nunchucks, but mug me. Do it.  I dare you.  Because I am armed.  And I will throw my bag-o-poop.  At you.  Right at your face.

And there you have the hidden bonus: picking up after your dog further ensures your personal safety.  Okay, maybe I’ve travelled down some bizarre tangent, but these thoughts can creep up when you find yourself carrying a poop bag upwards of 3 kilometres late at night.

Anyway, my point is: shit happens, and when it does, pick it up.  Whether you’re on a walk in your neighbourhood or it’s during play time in the off-leash park, you are obligated as the dog’s guardian.  It’s unpleasant and unsanitary for everyone when you don’t. 

And no, you can’t leave it to “go back to nature”.  Not in our urban settings; the population of pet dogs in Canada in the United States means that there would be crap everywhere if everyone thought that.  Dog waste actually counts as litter and is detrimental to the environment as it contributes to local water pollution.  It’s also just plain gross and stinky and unpleasant for everyone to see, even if you have a dog of your own.  Who hasn’t been enjoying a nice day outside when all of a sudden your bliss is defiled because you’ve just stepped in someone’s negligence?

And while I’m at it, a special note to the folks to take the effort to bag their dog’s poop and then leave the bag just off the path:  wtf?  I might go so far as to reckon that this practice is actually worse than not picking it up at all.  I mean, at this point you’ve survived the worst of it, so why not just carry it to the garbage?  Anticipating a potential response, sure, biodegradable bags are great and I do recommend picking some up to reduce the amount of plastic waste, but they still need to make it to a garbage can.  Otherwise you’re still littering and still guilty of all of the above complaints.

I think this sign says it all.

The Brits say it best.

In Defence of Big Dogs

In Defence of Big Dogs
Are you “sizist”?

As many of us dog owners are aware, travelling anywhere with your dog always means an advance and thorough check through the fine print in the policies of any “pet friendly” establishment on the agenda.  Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply make a note of whether dogs are allowed because “pet friendly” is actually a misleading term.  Many popular hotels tout themselves as “pet friendly”, but as soon as you make a detailed inquiry, you find out this only applies to dogs who weigh under 100, 50 or even 20 pounds.  While this means your average Chihuahua is free to roam the country at will with its owners, that leaves a lot of dogs and their owners out in the cold.  I have personally had encounters in “pet friendly” stores telling me that while yes, they do allow dogs, they do not allow dogs as big as mine. 

First, let’s look at some numbers.  According to a Canadian Animal Health Institute 2007 release, approximately 35% of Canadian households have at least one pet dog, and the dog population in Canada is estimated to be upwards of 5.9 million in the country.  Below the border, they estimate that there are 61 million pet dogs in the United States, with approximately 36% of households owning at least one dog.

There are about 15 breeds of dogs generally considered to be “giant breed”, which is often determined by weight: an average “giant” dog weighs 100 pounds or more, (for both male and female).  The list often includes, but is not limited to, breeds such as the Leonberger, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Irish Wolfhound, Great Dane, Newfoundland, and English Mastiff.

In addition, there are upwards of 57 breeds considered to be “large breed” dogs, with the weight standard generally sitting at 50-100 pounds.  Large breed dogs include the Malamute, Akita, Old English Sheepdog, Airedale Terrier, Bloodhound, Vizsla, Bernese Mountain Dog, German Shepherd, Chow Chow, Boxer, Rottweiler, and most retrievers, including the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and Flat Coat Retriever.

Noting that the Canadian Kennel Club currently recognises 175 different dog breeds, this means that large or giant breed dogs account for about 41% of registered dog breeds.  How that number translates to the overall dog population, frankly I don’t know, but also take into account that, according to Canada’s Guide to Dogs, the “large breed” Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog by ownership in Canada.  Similar reports come from the United States, with the American Kennel Club stating that there are over twice as many Labrador Retrievers registered in the US as the next most popular breed by ownership.

Secondly, and before moving on, I stress I am not writing to argue that dogs should be allowed to go everywhere people are.  While that would be nice, there are some places where dogs shouldn’t be or aren’t allowed to be (food establishments, places selling prescription drugs), and any place that has a “No Dogs” sign posted should be respected.  I also acknowledge that not all dogs are trained and some dog owners are dunces.  These people and their dogs are the folks who ruin dog-accompanied shopping and travel privileges for the rest of us and it will always be that way.  And for those of us heading out with our average, non-service canine companions, we should be respectable to those around us, setting a good example and making a good impression.  Don’t take your dog into a store if he is excessively wet, muddy, or possibly drooly – doing so makes you one of the aforementioned dunces, I’m afraid.  Ensuring your dog can behave itself should go without saying.  And always remember that even though it is hard to believe, some people are afraid of dogs, or actually just don’t like them, so yours should be able to keep to its own personal space while accompanying you out in public.

That aside, I am writing to address size-based discrimination found amongst the various “dog friendly” environments already in place, whether it be a resort, hotel, condominium complex, retail store, or public park or other attraction.  Small dogs often find themselves with access privileges that their larger counterparts are denied.

But why is this?  Is there something fundamentally unruly about the large and giant breed dogs?  Certainly not.  A quick look into the disposition of any large breed, from a Great Dane to a Mastiff, will no doubt result in most of them making a claim to the title “Gentle Giant”.  In fact, the larger breeds such as Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, and the aforementioned are generally known for their low-energy, calm dispositions.  Of course, each individual dog is different, and size and breed assumptions are kind of what got us in the mess in the first place.  Sure, you absolutely can come across an exuberant Great Dane, even though he weighs over 120 pounds.  Size does not guarantee lethargy, but on the whole, the giant breeds at least seem to exert less energy than your average small dog (think terriers, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Beagles, etc.).

So why do proprietors discriminate on size alone?  Sure, big dogs are, well, bigger.  They eat more and therefore poop more.  They have more fur, so if they’re a shedding type of dog, they will shed more.  But these should be concerns of potential dog owners who are going to have the dog living in their homes every day, because they have to clean up after it.  These things aren’t pressing issues for the fifteen minute store visit, or even for a brief overnight stay at a hotel.  And as far as size restrictions go for residential buildings, those concerns remain nil if you have a responsible and hygienic tenant who cleans up after his or her dog.  Speaking from personal experience as a landlord, dogs of all sizes are equally hard on a residence and are actually no worse than cats.

Additionally, hotels often have their own remedies for these kinds of cleaning and repair concerns.  Most “pet friendly” accommodations have designated pet-rooms or put those travelling with pets in smoking rooms.  And nearly every hotel with a “pet friendly” policy also has an extra cost associated with it, whether it be a one-time charge or a per-night fee, with said cost ranging from $10-30 night or $50+ per stay.  There are also policies in place so guests do not leave dogs in the rooms unsupervised, ideally allowing for minimal canine-related destruction or disruption.  Yet, even with these stipulations and cautionary measures, size restrictions are still present and common.

Is it that big dogs are more destructive?  Well, not necessarily.  Any untrained, under-exercised dog is going to be destructive, regardless of size.  If you want to guarantee the condition of your property, an exercise and training requirement for all dogs is more appropriate.  Yes, there are many excellent small dog owners out there, but there are many awful ones, too.  Those are the folks who think they don’t need to train their small dog because they can just “pick him up” when he’s being bad, and figure that because they’re small, they don’t need to be exercised properly.  And why do these owners still get the full privileges of the “pet friendly” establishments, but those of us with well-mannered large dogs remain left out?

Or better yet, let’s use the example of a hotel that has a 50lb weight limit in its pet policy.  How is it that my dog, when he was a puppy and met that criteria, but was also not yet fully housebroken, would have been allowed to stay there, but now that he is a mature adult dog, albeit much larger, he’s banned?  Does that make sense to anyone?

Moses, when he qualified as a "medium sized dog".

I understand that hotels and stores and other “pet friendly” locations want to ensure the dogs they allow are well-mannered and not a nuisance to other guests.  But size is no way to determine that and size restrictions, just like breed-specific restrictions, miss the point entirely.  Judging a dog based on its size or breed is no way to determine temperament or level of training or socialization.

Instead, I call for a complete revocation of these ridiculous size-related restrictions.  And no, this won’t mean your next shopping trip or out of town stay is going to be a doggy circus; there still needs to be some standard or form or regulation, and effective policies are already often in place.  Requiring all dogs to be supervised and on-leash when out in public is completely reasonable.  Continue charging your extra fees, if it means that much to you, and make no qualms about asking an unruly or noisy dog to leave.  Hold owners completely responsible for the behaviour of their dogs.  Perhaps offer incentives for trained dogs, asking for accreditations such as Canine Good Neighbour / Good Citizen, which can only serve to encourage people to seek formal training when they normally may not.

And when looking at the size of the population of dog owners, and the population of big dog owners specifically, it doesn’t make much sense to exclude these folks and their beloved pets from travel or activities.  Businesses who open their doors to dogs of all sizes gain a market that will remain loyal and recommend their friends.

Sure, it’s natural to have preferences.  Owners of big dogs likely prefer them – guilty as charged.  And owners of small dogs probably feel that a small dog is the best choice for them, if not a better choice in general.  But my complaint arises when restrictions are put in place based on these arbitrary preferences.  It is actually like disregarding the contents of a book because you don’t like the colour of the cover, and I believe long ago we were all told not to do that.  Not to mention, often size discriminations are a way to mask breed-specific discriminations, but for more on that I invite you to read my post “To Ban the Breed?

Is this a cause you can get behind?  If so, visit: http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/givebigdogsabreak/

Travelling with your dog? Here are some great websites to help you locate pet friendly accommodations and attractions.
If within Canada visit:  www.petfriendly.ca or www.dogfriendly.com
If travelling below the border, check out:  www.GoPetFriendly.com

Regardless of size, a dog is a dog.

The “Pro” List

In the spirit of fairness, we also did our best to make a “pro” list. If you missed the previous Con List, click here.

The Official Pro List of Procreating

  1. You get to play with/own all those awesome childhood toys, such as Lego, Etch-A-Sketch, and Mr. Potato Head.
  2. You have someone to take care of you (for free, or at their cost) when you’re old and decrepit (if society still does that kind of thing).
  3. You learn to eat healthier (read the hidden con: no cookies before dinner applies to everyone).
  4. Maternity leave = paid leave from work!
  5. From a parent: “You truly experience unconditional love”.
  6. “Expectant Mothers” parking.
  7. You get presents when they are born.
  8. If you feel it absolutely necessary to have them, you can pawn them off on the grandparents for a while when you’re sick of them. (*Disclaimer* When the “good” grandparents live 5,000kms away, pawning them off is not always an option.)
  9. Giant boobs, if you’re into that sort of thing
  10. A good scapegoat for bailing on events you have no interest in attending or want to leave early (“we have to relieve the babysitter…”).
  11. Getting knocked up is trendy these days.
  12. Valid excuse for packing on that extra 50 lbs.
  13. Babies look cute in baby clothes and holiday-themed costumes.
  14. You get to play on the playground equipment and go to fun kids events without triggering a call to the police.
  15. Cute foreign babies.
  16. Your mother/mother-in-law will finally stop nagging you about grandkids.
  17. Less hassle with airport security when pregnant or with small children (until someone straps a bomb to a small child).
  18. Tax breaks.
  19. You can teach your child to say “God bless us everyone” and put on an annual production of A Christmas Carol.
  20. Kids sometimes say hilarious things.
  21. Disguising child labour as “chores”; kids can eventually take over some of the housework.
  22. Holidays become full-blown holidays again: Easter egg hunts, Valentine’s Day cards, hand turkeys at Thanksgiving, etc.
  23. MILF status.
  24. You can literally eat whatever you want (as long as it’s not pregnancy-prohibited) whenever you want to for 9 months and no one can say crap about it.
  25. Making your kid learn a valuable skill (e.g., a second language, a musical instrument, a particular sport or activity) you never had the chance to, on the premise of enriching their lives and opening doors for them, while essentially re-living your youth vicariously through them.
  26. There will be no more talk of your “biological clock” and its ticking.
  27. Even if just for a short while, your kids will look up to you.
  28. You get to tell them outright lies and it’s socially acceptable (e.g., Santa Claus).
  29. People (might) give you their seat on the train.
  30. You could have the next Neil deGrasse Tyson, Margaret Atwood, or Elon Musk.
  31. Disney movies.
  32. From a parent: You get to embarrass them in front of their friends just like your parents used to do to you. = Hours of fun.
  33. Pregnant women can get away with a lot – sweat pants in public, rude comments, bailing on events last minute – simply because they’re pregnant.
  34. Children’s books.
  35. “Family vacations” / road trips
  36. You will fulfill the curiosity about how your offspring will turn out.
  37. You get to teach them stuff, share your knowledge, and witness several “light bulb moments” (from a parent).
  38. You can now legitimately criticise other parents and their unruly children.
  39. You might eventually become a grandparent.
  40. “Kids keep you young.”
  41. “Children cure boredom.”

Yes, this list is significantly shorter.  Feel free to comment with your own additions, or to tell me about how offended you are by this assessment of child-bearing and rearing.

The “Con” List

A long-standing joke amongst like minded 20-something childless (child-free) friends, turned into an official document.

Read with a sense of humour and remember offence is taken, not given.

The Official Con List of Procreating

  1. Say “good-bye” to a solid 8 hours of sleep for the next ~decade.
  2. The “doctor-recommended” list of things you can’t eat/drink while pregnant/breast-feeding keeps growing: tea, coffee, pop, anything caffeine, sushi, fish in general, soft cheeses, deli meat, pate, any raw meat, hot dogs, artificial sweeteners, pineapple, papaya, sesame seeds, canned foods.…
  3. No booze while pregnant/breast-feeding (yes, this is deserving of its own point separate from the above).
  4. Finding, retaining, and paying a reliable baby-sitter.
  5. Sticky hands, sticky kitchen counters, sticky floors, ruined sofas.
  6. Total home destruction.
  7. Children in public – enough said.
  8. Baby showers.
  9. When pregnant, complete strangers often feel they have license to strike up a conversation and touch your stomach.
  10. One word:  stretchmarks.
  11. Quoting a friend who was 9 months preggo at the time (Facebook status):  “…no one told me that when the hips start to split it feels like I’ve been kicked in the box by a steel-toed boot.”
  12. Diapers. Shit. Urine. Vomit. Baby rash cream.
  13. Having to lose the baby weight afterwards.
  14. Baby clothes; they outgrow them in 3 hours.
  15. Potty training. Until they “get it” be prepared to change bed sheets on a daily basis.
  16. Giving birth to the placenta.
  17. Good-bye, sex life.
  18. Shopping for, paying for, and hauling around car seats, strollers and cribs.
  19. Complete and utter devastation to the vagina and surrounding areas.
  20. The sick thing that happens to a pregnant lady’s belly button where it looks like the foetus is trying to escape.
  21. Those TACKY pregnancy pictures (if people tell you yours aren’t tacky or awkward, they’re lying).
  22. You get shafted at your birthday and Christmas since people will start getting you pregnancy- or baby-related gifts.
  23. You absolutely cannot bring your offspring to social events.
  24. MILF status.
  25. Out of control mood swings and food cravings.
  26. Quote from a mother: “If you have to make a pros & cons list, you shouldn’t have a kid. It’s not like buying a car.”
  27. You can’t scuba dive while pregnant.
  28. Kids are expensive in general.  Feeding, clothing, schooling, extra-curricular activities, etc. for 18+ years.
  29. That’s the end of adult-only interactions until you find that coveted baby-sitter.
  30. Crying, whining, fussing children.  Temper-tantrums in general.
  31. You could have the next Hitler, bin Laden, Britney Spears, etc.
  32. Minivans.
  33. Breast-feeding. Ouch.
  34. Breast-feeding in public. Controversial.
  35. Children’s music.
  36. “Family vacations” / road trips
  37. Those awkward, obnoxious, rebellious teen years (approximately 9-21).
  38. Worrying about your kid getting knocked up, addicted to meth, getting in a car accident, and their general well-being and safety at all times.
  39. Worrying about just screwing up your kid in general.
  40. You might eventually become a grandparent.
  41. Crazy hockey moms are now your peers.
  42. Good-bye, spare time.
  43. Mandatory bed-rest during 3rd trimester is apparently pretty common.
  44. Diminished chance of exciting, long-term, or international travel.
  45. Morning sickness.
  46. Cankles.
  47. No pedicures, manicures, hair colouring, etc, during pregnancy because of “chemicals and fumes”.
  48. Frequent constipation/gas
  49. People are going to want to watch/videotape the whole birthing procedure (at best, you’re going to have to repeatedly explain that there is a waiting room for a reason).
  50. Teletoon
  51. After becoming a parent, addressing your own needs/wants first suddenly becomes horrible and selfish.
  52. “What are you going to name your baby?”
  53. Attending school theatrical/musical productions.
  54. “Mom jeans”.
  55. Parent/teacher interviews.
  56. Kids will put ANYthing up their noses – or any orifice, for that matter.  And you have to get it out.
  57. As explained by a parent: “You will no longer get the same enjoyment out of Quentin Tarantino films and their senseless violence”.
  58. Play-dates & sleepovers, where you just obtain more kids and you can’t even punish them.
  59. Spanking is frowned upon.  Oh, no, wait, now it’s okay.  Oh, nope, spoke too soon, spanking is awful and will cause permanent mental damage.  Oh, nope, it’s actually a useful parenting tool….
  60. You are 100% responsible for another human life.
  61. Career could be put on hold or set back.
  62. “Baby-proofing” your house.
  63. Kids tend to repeat what they overhear at the most inopportune time: “Daddy says Auntie is a slut.”
  64. They learn to divide and conquer: “But Dad said I could…”
  65. Grandparents / extended family will always complain about not seeing them often enough.
  66. Kids + cell phones/technology = nightmare
  67. Allergies: say goodbye to Mr. Fluffy (ed note: hopefully not! There are options!)
  68. Constant, unsolicited advice from “more experienced” mothers.
  69. Strangers will come in to touch and adore your baby without asking.
  70. Quadruplets can happen.  Naturally.
  71. The word “womb” and other pregnancy-related jargon.
  72. “Baby on Board” window stickers.
  73. While pregnant, you have to start measuring all time in weeks.  Once the kid comes, all time is in months.
  74. Your kid could be stupid or a bully and you won’t even know because “love is blind”.
  75. Toy, furniture and food recalls – total paranoia (“that wasn’t made in China, was it?”).
  76. Ultrasounds – uncomfortable and the technician can be a jerk.  And now they have the extra-creepy 3D photos.
  77. “Are you getting him/her baptized?”
  78. The awkward newborn tour around the office.
  79. There are about a million different possible “birthing experiences”, about which even perfect strangers will be highly opinionated.
  80. Global over-population is a real epidemic.
  81. Even seemingly normal people will often involuntarily revert to baby talk simply in the presence of an infant.
  82. There’s rarely a “right age” or a “right time” to have a kid.
  83. Labour in general.  Ouch.  And apparently they only reserve c-sections for special circumstances.
  84. AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com – that could be you!
  85. Even if your child is a perfect little angel (good luck), chances are he or she will have a “best friend” who is a total pain in the ass, and a bad influence on your kid, but you can’t really forbid your child to see his/her best friend, can you?
  86. You will get to fight internal battles between your inner child and your inner parent on an ongoing basis, usually in public, and often while your child is waging the same battle externally. (“Why can’t he have that?” “Do you want to give in just because he asks?” “Is it wrong to give him what he wants?” “When does it end, and how do you define the end point?” “Isn’t it good for them to have a little fun, get something ‘just because’?” etc.)
  87. It’s hard to feel like you’re doing the right thing.
  88. Your kids will eat your food. Off your plate. And then put some of it half-chewed back onto your plate. Get used to it.
  89. Homework. At least 12 years of it.  I hope you remember long division.
  90. Nature or nurture?  It doesn’t matter – they’re both your fault.
  91. Post-pardem depression.
  92. You get to experience hubris in a new way. “Whoa, we made another whole creature, and we didn’t even ASK if they wanted to be made!” Who do we think we are, anyway?

Feel free to comment with your own additions!

We also tried our best with a Pro List. It’s admittedly shorter. Click here to see it.

To Blog or Not to Blog: Pedigree Adoption Drive

To Blog or Not to Blog:  The Pedigree Adoption Drive

Pedigree Adoption Drive Ad

Perusing some dog-related blogs this week, I stumbled upon this campaign.  Blog about the campaign by Sunday, September 19, 2010, and Pedigree will donate a 20 lb bag of dog food to a shelter.  “Like” them on Facebook and they’ll donate 8 oz. of dog food.  Watch their video online, and they donate $1.00.

Granted, the last two actions can be completed by anyone, and the Facebook campaign lasts all year.  But as far as the blogging campaign goes, it is organized by BlogPaws, which is a Pedigree-sponsored organization, so I’m not sure if every blog by just anyone count or not – I tried to find some fine print, but still remain unclear.

And you know what?  I think I’m okay with the idea that this won’t count.  Actually, I know I am.

Yes, the advertised sentiment behind the Pedigree campaign is great.  No one can argue that.  Supporting shelters and adopting rescue dogs is an important cause.  And Pedigree’s marketing department has amazing skill when pulling at the heart strings of animal lovers.  Their impervious tagline is “PEDIGREE® Brand. Everything we do is for the love of dogs, from the nutritious dog food we make to the dog adoption drive we support.”  Who could disagree with that?

But before I decided to jump on board and declare my undying support for their campaign, I looked up the food they were donating, as the campaign also seems to serve as advertising for some of their new kibbles.  The dog food donated with our support is PEDIGREE® Healthy Longevity Food for Dogs.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Healthy.  Longevity.  Both things I want for my dog, don’t you?  They go on to advertise the food includes “special nutrients” like antioxidants, fish oil, and Omega3s.  That’s great!  In fact, the spin is almost enough for me to compulsively “Like”… or is it?

Pedigree is a well-known brand.  We’ve all seen their commercials, and they have a wide range of products that you can find in most pet stores… and even grocery stores.  Are alarm bells ringing yet?

The ingredients of PEDIGREE® Healthy Longevity Food for Dogs are posted online (http://www.pedigree.com/really-good-food/product-page.aspx?id=1037). 

They are, in the exact order as found online and presumably as on the packaging:

Ground Yellow Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Brewers Rice, Ground Whole Wheat, Corn Gluten Meal, Animal Fat (Preserved with BHA and Citric Acid), Lamb, Plain Dried Beet Pulp, Vegetable Oil (Source of Linoleic Acid), Natural Flavor, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Calcium Carbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Fish Oil (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols, a Source of Vitamin E), Vitamins (dl-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate [Source of Vitamin E], Choline Chloride, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate [Source of Vitamin C*], Vitamin A Acetate, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Biotin, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement [Vitamin B2], Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement), Dried Vegetables (Peas, Carrots), Minerals (Zinc, Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Potassium Iodide), Added FD&C Colors (Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Blue 2).

Well now.

The guaranteed analysis shows:

Crude Protein – Min 25.0%
Crude Fat – Min 12.0%
Crude Fiber – Max 4.0%
Moisture – Max 12.0%
Linoleic Acid (omega-6 Fatty Acid) – Min 3.0%
Vitamin A – Min 10,000 Iu/kg
Vitamin E – Min 350 Iu/kg
Docosahexaenoic Acid* (DHA) – Min 0.05%
Ascorbic Acid (vit. C*) – Min 100 Mg/kg
Omega 3 Fatty Acid* – Min 0.30%
Glucosamine* – Min 400 Iu/kg
Chondroitin* – Min 300 Iu/kg
*not required as an essential nutrient by The AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles.

And we have officially entered the realm of dog food controversy.

25% protein?  But isn’t my dog largely a meat-eater?  Why do they want to give him corn?  Or wheat?  If left to his own devices in the wilderness, he certainly wouldn’t go devour the nearest farmer’s crop.

There is a great website, www.dogfoodanalysis.com.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t added this particular Pedigree brand to the reviews yet, but here is the review of Pedigree Complete Nutrition (Adult) kibble, which has a strikingly similar ingredient list, though guarantees 21% protein instead of the 25% promised by the Healthy Longevity stuff:

Pros: None
Cons:  Insufficient meat content, by-products, low quality grains, fat and meat products of unidentifiable origin, carcinogenic preservative, artificial colourant.
Recommended?  No.

They gave this kibble a one star rating out of a possible six.  Why? Well, they can explain it better than I:

This food receives a 1 star rating simply because there is nothing lower.

 
The primary ingredients in the food are grains (it should be meat!). Corn is a problematic grain that is difficult for dogs to digest and thought to be the cause of a great many allergy and yeast infection problems. We prefer not to see this used in dog food.

 
Meat and bone meal is a low quality meat product for which it is impossible to determine the source.

 
Corn appears a second time as corn gluten meal. The AAFCO definition of corn gluten meal is “the dried residue from corn after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ, and the separation of the bran by the process employed in the wet milling manufacture of corn starch or syrup, or by enzymatic treatment of the endosperm”. In plain English, that which remains after all the nutritious bits have been removed.

 
The next ingredient is by-products. It is impossible to ascertain the quality of by-products and these are usually products that are of such low quality as to be rejected for use in the human food chain, or else are those parts that have so little value that they cannot be used elsewhere in either the human or pet food industries. The AAFCO definition of chicken by-product meal is “a meal consisting of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.”

 
Animal fat is a further low quality ingredient and is impossible to determine the source. Unidentified ingredients are usually very low quality. AAFCO define this as “obtained from the tissues of mammals and/or poultry in the commercial processes of rendering or extracting. It consists predominantly of glyceride esters of fatty acids and contains no additions of free fatty acids. If an antioxidant is used, the common name or names must be indicated, followed by the words “used as a preservative”.

 
This food uses chemical preservatives (BHA, BHT) which is believed to be carcinogenic, and is banned from use in human food. It also uses artificial colourants.

 
The 6th and 12th ingredients are fragments of wheat. The use of wheat is a significant negative: wheat is believed to be the number one cause of allergy problems in dog food. This is another ingredient we prefer not to see used at all in dog food.

 

For more information on bad ingredients often found in commercial dog food, visit http://www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=badingredients.  Many of the ingredients in Pedigree kibble are listed.

So, a very brief look into the ingredients and now we find that Pedigree is not so great after all.  Sure, they use a lot of positive words, but this only redirects your attention to your own affection for your pet rather than the details of the product they’re selling you.

I invite you to check out your own dog food against these sources, and the many other good resources out there.  There is a plethora of information about dog food nutrition, and poor quality kibble recalls have been common occurrences in the recent years.  There are many good quality options out when it comes to what to feed your dog, and what is actually good for them.  Take a moment and look into raw diets and their many benefits, or if that’s just not an option for you, check out the brands given 6 star ratings by the Dog Food Analysis folks (Origen and Innova make that list along with a few others).

So, should I support this campaign?  The sentiment of helping rescue dogs still seems worthwhile, but the associated marketing and promoting of the Pedigree brand doesn’t sit well with me.  And I imagine the shelters supported by this promotion receive a lot of financial help from Pedigree and therefore are obligated to promote it to the adopters of their rescue dogs. 

Do I want to see people feeding this food to dogs?  Absolutely Not.  On the other hand, is Pedigree food better than no food at all?  Well… you got me there.  Do I just wish our support guaranteed the donation of a good quality dog food?  Of course, but I won’t hold my breath.  Pedigree is out there to make money, you know.

In the end, though, I’ve still blogged about the campaign, so perhaps they’ve bested me there.  Touché, Pedigree, touché.

Flexi-Leash Fury

Flexi-Leash Fury

Visualize for a moment with me, now will you?

I am walking my dog down a familiar suburban sidewalk.  On the horizon I spot an oncoming pedestrian.  Like any alert dog owner, I scan for the silhouette of a dog, just to prepare for any possible meetings, greetings, or altercations.  I see nothing and proceed as normal.

Then, as the figure approaches, I notice something in her hand.  It appears that she’s holding something – about the size of your averaged paperback – by its handle.  Ahh, the all too familiar flexi-leash.  Since her accompanying dog is not readily noticed, I scan once again for her canine companion until I spot him:  a small Scottish Terrier who is a good 20 feet away from his owner, sniffing and marking his way along the neighbourhood lawns.  He is far ahead of her as she marches down the sidewalk towards me completely oblivious and unprepared.

As we get closer, Mr. Scottish Terrier finally notices us approaching and is not okay with our presence.  Barking and lunging ensue.  My usual recourse for interactions such as these is to pull over to the grass with my dog on the inside and calmly keep going, paying no mind to the temper tantrum that is occurring on the sidewalk.  I give the other owner a wide berth, allowing him or her to take as much control over the reacting dog as is possible.  We have worked on this a lot and happily Moses rarely perks an ear to these types of encounters any more.

However, in this particular case, that is not an option.  With his owner as the pivot point, the terrier now has a 20 foot radius to patrol as we pass by, necessitating our move onto the curb among parked cars and close to residential traffic to keep out of the little mongrel’s way.  The terrier proceeds to bark and lunge at the end of his leash, and even gains a few extra feet of leash since his owner is too slow on the brake.  I can hear the flexi-leash click as it either becomes totally extended or the brake mechanism has broken.  With the long distance from his owner to gain momentum, this 20 lb little dog is actually able to nearly pull his average-sized middle-aged female owner over with his efforts to get closer to us.  She tries backing on to someone’s lawn in a weak effort pull him out of our way, since she cannot reel him in without any slack in the line.

Once we pass and are safely back on the sidewalk, it takes everything in my power not to shout back to her “lose the flexi-leash!”

Sure, there really are several problems working in tandem here: a less than stellar dog owner, poorly trained dog, and a crappy, but all too common, piece of equipment.  My target here is the ever-infuriating flexi-leash.

Nothing during the course of an average dog walk irritates me more than encounters similar to the above.  Or seeing any dog at any time being walked on a flexi-leash for that matter.  As a motorist or pedestrian it is far too common a sight to see a dog walking along, or even crossing the street, 20 feet ahead of or behind its owner.  The safety concerns seem obvious, yet stores keep selling these leashes, and people keep buying them.  Yes, I immediately and harshly judge the flexi-leash user.  And not just because incidents like the aforementioned are frequent and put a damper on my own dog walks, but because there are legitimate reasons why the flexi-leash should never be considered a useful tool to the responsible dog owner.

Quite frankly, flexi-leashes are an abomination, and their popularity is based on completely false and irrational myths believed by naïve buyers.  Despite by-laws in many municipalities setting the maximum appropriate leash length at 6 feet/2 metres (e.g. Calgary, Alberta), these little devices are as popular as ever.

The ads will tell you that these retractable leashes give your dog more “freedom” while you maintain control.  This is very simply false.  Any added distance between you and your dog means less control.  Just ask the owner of the Scottish Terrier from the story above; she had no control over her dog whatsoever, and the look on her face at the time suggested to me that she was quite aware of it.  Was it enough to prompt her to ditch the flexi-leash for a sensible 6 foot one?  Well, unfortunately probably not, but there’s no accounting for common sense.

And all too often we see the unbalanced, under-exercised little lap dog yapping away at the end of the flexi-leash.  But how about when it’s the other way around?  Now imagine that a calm, friendly dog is on the end, still 20 feet away from its owner, and going in for a greeting with an unfamiliar dog – and said greeting just happens to turn south for one of a myriad of possible reasons.  The owner of the dog has no immediate recourse to protect their dog from the aggressor when the altercation is going down so far away.  A dog truly intent on harming another can and will do so in a split second.  Now imagine both dogs are on flexi-leashes and neither owner is able to respond quickly enough.  Mon Dieu!

Your dog’s health and safety is your number one responsibility as a dog owner, so how is it that the flexi-leash keeps slipping through the cracks?  The flexi-leash poses a safety risk to your dog, and that’s all there is to it.  Your dog can encounter any number of things during a walk (other dogs, other people, bikes, vehicles, porcupines, skunks, etc.), and when they are 20 or more feet away you are less likely to be able to anticipate it, prevent it, or help them quickly in a serious situation.  Yes, people actually have stood helplessly by while their dog – at the end of a flexi-leash – wandered onto the road and got hit by a car.

In addition to being a hazard to your dog, the flexi-leash also poses hazards to the human user, including tripping and tangling which are obvious risks associated with that much lead.  More serious hazards actually include reported cases of abrasions, rope burn, and even finger amputations (for those who believe a visualization of these hazards is helpful, visit http://www.flexiusa.com/operation/safety-advice.php ).  The flexi-leash comes with a bonafide owner’s manual when purchased, with the least of precautions being that they’re only to be used with obedient, well-mannered dogs.  Experience, of course, shows us that is rarely the case.

Some actually suggest that having a dog on a flexi-leash has made the need for teaching them to “heel” or “come” unnecessary.  Opting to forego some basic obedience because of sheer ignorance, stupidity, or indifference?  Really?

And while we’re at it, no, allowing your dog to zig-zag around does not “give her more exercise” or let her “enjoy” the walk more.  Are you truly so lazy that you are looking for shortcuts and cannot take your dog on a proper daily walk?

Flexi-leashes also do not prevent your dog from pulling, as many claim; they just mask the problem.  Put the same dog on a proper leash, and the owner will complain of pulling – why?  Because the dog always pulls.  When using a flexi-leash, the dog actually learns to pull, since they must pull forward to get more lead.  Additionally, flexi-leashes self-retract when not locked, so there is always tension on the leash.  Because the reel of the leash is the only part that monitors the tension and slack, the owner is oblivious.  But all you have to do is look:  no slack in the line means the leash is tight; tension means the dog is pulling.  Just because you can’t feel it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

And, finally, for those who will inevitably respond that the flexi-leash is a great tool for training your dog at a distance, I pose this question: if your dog isn’t perfectly behaved at the end of a 6 foot leash, how can you expect them to be just as good from 20 feet away?  If you properly practice building up distance when training, making slow, gradual increases in distance will ensure you’ll never need to make use of a long-line or flexi-leash.  Your dog will learn to pay attention and respond from 5, 10, even 50 or more feet way.  From a training perspective, the ever-tight flexi-leash also does not provide any method to send our dogs clear messages or follow-up.  Sure, from a distance we expect our verbal commands to do the work, but if they are spot-on and built up gradually, a flexi-leash should never be required.  Controlling our urge to push our dogs too far too fast will make the seemingly most legitimate use of the flexi-leash obsolete altogether.

The bottom line:  the flexi-leash is an awful contraption that should never be used.  The use of a flexi-leash simply signifies to me an untrained dog accompanied by an uneducated owner.  And fewer things are more infuriating than that.

Dog Owning 101

Dog Ownership 101: The Basics
The things I wish all dog owners knew, or knew to consider.

1.  What type of dog is best for you?

Granted, it might be too late, but this is something that should be given huge consideration for someone getting a (or another) dog.

Becoming a dog owner is not just adding a cute, furry addition to your daily routine; dogs are a commitment of your time and money, and becoming a good dog owner requires a life-style change.  Different breeds have different needs and will provide you with different challenges, and you have to be very honest about what will be best for both you and your dog.  Sure, Australian Shepherds are darn cute, but do you actually have 2-3 hours per day (every day, for the next 12-15 years) to dedicate to providing your dog with the physical and mental stimulation it needs?

Make a frank assessment of your lifestyle and what kind of companion you’re looking for.  In addition to how cute the dog is, consider energy levels, size, type of coat (shedding), etc.  Great Danes make very cute puppies, but shelters and rescue organizations frequently see them surrendered once they are full grown and the previous owner decided they couldn’t handle a dog that size.  But with a little foresight, these and similar situations are entirely preventable.  Do your research; know what you’re getting yourself into.

2.  Where to get your dog from?

I am not going to go into detail, and I honestly don’t think I should have to in any event, because information concerning the horrors of puppy mills abound.  Everyone considering a puppy should do their best to ensure their money is not funding these organizations.  Yes, puppies sold in pet stores are often from puppy mills.  Stay away.

Also beware of the notorious “backyard breeder”.  These are breeders who are trying to turn a profit, and who treat the dogs akin to livestock.  They do not pay attention to breeding lines, hereditary diseases, or cases of inbreeding, and often have one female giving birth to multiple litters per year.  Watch out.

And if you are seeking a dog from a breeder, do your homework and ask lots of questions.  A good breeder will ask you lots of questions, too.  Make a visit to see the puppies and any other dogs they may have in advance and check out the living conditions.  If you’re not comfortable, don’t support them.

If you want to rescue a dog, research is again very important – both into your potential new dog, and into the organization itself.  Have a lengthy conversation with the people at the organization who have spent the most time with the dog you have in mind, since they should be able to give you good insights about your chosen dog.  And remember, when adopting a rescue – whether adult or puppy – you may be also adopting a variety of potential mental or physical problems (also possible when getting a dog from a breeder, too, of course), so ensure you are prepared (mentally, physically, financially) to deal with what may arise.

3.  Exercise!

First, lets be clear on what I mean by “exercise”:  I mean a proper WALK.  I do not mean running around the backyard, playing fetch, or going to an off-leash park.  I mean walking with your dog heeled next to you.  The other aforementioned activities are play-time perks you dog can certainly enjoy after his or her daily walk.

A proper dog walk is important for several reasons.  Some are:

a)  Physical exercise.  Obviously.  Many pet dogs are overweight, and lack of physical exercise is half the problem (being over-fed would be the other).  Our dogs need exercise to build muscle and be physically fit, just like we do.  At minimum, your dog needs an hour walk per day.  Every day.  For his or her entire life.  This is a responsibility you agreed to when you decided to get a dog.

b)  Release of pent-up energy.  In addition to the physical health benefits of walking, there are mental benefits as well.  Dogs that have pent-up energy from lack of physical and mental stimulation tend to take it out at home, and chewing and digging are great indicators of this – they’re just trying to keep themselves busy.  A daily walk will help alleviate boredom and keeps them mentally and physically engaged.

c)  Bonding.  An hour or more of walking per day is a great opportunity to build a bond with your dog.  With them heeled next to you, they have to pay attention to you when you turn, stop, and change pace.  Their attention is focused on you, and they look to you for leadership.  This can actually improve other aspects of your relationship with your dog, such as their obedience to commands and rules and your other expectations of them.

d)  Socialization.  Getting your dog out daily to see, and possibly meet, people and other dogs along the way is a great way to ensure they’re polite when greeting new people and other dogs.  Getting out regularly to new locations and on different routes also helps them to be relaxed and confident in all sorts of situations.  Our dogs are our companions, so the more places we can take them with us, the better.

e)  Gives your dog a job.  While dogs are believed to have been domesticated since as early as 10,000 BCE, dogs have only been urban, household pets for the last 100 years or so, a trend that developed as a status symbol, together with the modern kennel club institutions.  All breeds of dogs were engineered for one type of job or another: herding, hunting, drafting, tracking, guarding, etc.  And yes, even Fido, as he sleeps on your couch, has instincts associated with his intended “job”.  So even if you’re not able to take your dog to herding trials or tracking classes, at the very least his or her job can be to walk nicely next to you for an hour or two per day.  It’s not asking a lot, and they are receiving a much more luxurious lifestyle than the working dog of centuries past as it is.

4.  Training

All I am simply going to say here is: train your dog! I am going to try to remain uncontroversial here and avoid commenting on the different schools of thought, but the importance of training your dog in general is huge.  All dog owners represent the whole dog owning community when they’re out in public (which should be daily, if you’re exercising your dog regularly), so just as it’s important to pick up after them, it’s also important to ensure you don’t have a crazy furry monster at the end of your leash.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that there’s probably not one style of training that will work for every single dog and every single owner, so it’s important to look into local training organizations and pick one you agree with and think will work for both you and your dog.  And once you’ve picked it, for the love of Zeus, try it!  Give it 100% for the duration of the class.  Do what your trainer tells you, and if you don’t see drastic results immediately, be patient and consistent and practice at home.  While one method probably won’t work for everyone, no method will work unless you actually give it an honest effort.  Because, yes, what they say is true and it’s more like people training anyway.

I’d also like to take this moment to say that training isn’t a one-time fix for anything.  Just because you signed up for a 6 week course, doesn’t mean you can throw it all out after the class is over and will have the perfect dog for life.  Training, and maintaining rules and boundaries, continues throughout the lifetime of your dog, and is just another responsibility you accepted upon getting a dog.

5.  Diet

If you can purchase your dog’s food at the grocery store, simply put, you’re probably feeding them garbage.  Information on the perils of feeding cheap, poor-quality dog food can easily be found once one looks for it, so I invite you to do so.  There have been lots of pet food recalls in the recent years among those “grocery store brands”, and as a responsible dog owner, it’s up to you to educate yourself on what exactly is in that kibble and what it means for your dog.

A dog fed a proper, healthy diet has fewer medical issues, a healthier body weight, and a longer life-span.  Look into raw diets or quality dried foods that aren’t full of grains and unnecessary ingredients.  Your dog will like them better and be healthier for it.

And that’s it: the very basics of dog ownership as I see it.  While there is really a lot more to it than that, these are the big-picture concerns, which, if addressed, would lead to more fulfilled dogs and happier owners alike.

Perfecting “Go Pee”

Setting Pace at the Dog Run:
How to Give Fido a Designated Backyard Bathroom Location

Saving your lawn and teaching your dogs to do their “business” in a particular location is extremely easy – in theory.  But as we all know, if there is any sort of grey area or inconsistency, our dogs usually can find it and will exploit it.  Here’s how you can start the process and deal with potential struggles.

First, I recommend beginning in the spring/summer to encourage your own dedication to the process, since no one really wants to accompany their dog for every bathroom break in -20°C weather.  It will also provide many months of habit-forming before snow covers your yard.

Next, pick a bathroom command for your dog.  This command will refer to all bathroom activities.  It will also help to ensure all family members are using the same command and helping with the training.  The process will take a few weeks of dedication and consistency from everyone, but once the habit is learned your lawn is always safe.

And, of course, once you have your designated bathroom location decided upon and set up, make sure you clean all of the dog waste out of the rest of the backyard before starting the training process.  Give your lawn a thorough soaking, focusing on the areas your dog used to go to the bathroom, in order to eliminate the scent from those areas.  It is also recommended to place some of your dog’s waste in the dog run area so the scent is there.  Scent is what triggers a dog to release his or her bladder or bowels, and can be very helpful in the training process (remembering that dogs can only learn through instinct and repetition – and here we will use both).

Once you are ready to begin (and barring any particular medical issues your dog may have which could affect success), the training is a simple matter of accompanying your dog to the designated location – on leash – for every bathroom break for the next two weeks.  There are no exceptions; consistency is important.

Keeping Fido on leash at first is key so he doesn’t wander from the dog run and so you don’t have to catch him and bring him back.  Instead, you will simply walk your dog out to the dog run, give the bathroom command, and wait.  A standard six foot leash is plenty to provide your dog with personal space while ensuring he or she doesn’t stray to the grass.

Like initial house training, once Fido has completed the task perfectly, a little praise (such as a nice, slow chest rub or some go-play time in the yard) can be helpful.

Of course, because we’re trying to teach something new, this means Fido should not get unsupervised play time in the yard during these initial weeks lest do his business elsewhere while no one is watching.  In the event Fido does sneak away and leave his mark outside of the designated dog run area, don’t punish him for it.  Instead, your two weeks starts over and you now know you need to keep a better watch.

Once you’ve completed two weeks of consistent bathroom breaks in the designated area, you can lose the leash and move on to unaccompanied – but still supervised – bathroom breaks.  You will still need to monitor Fido in the backyard, and if you see him begin to wander to or sniff around an unauthorized location (by now you should be very familiar with your dog’s pre-bathroom routine), try a simple verbal interruption such as “hey!” to get his attention.  This alone could be enough to make him aware that he’s in the wrong spot.  If that’s not enough, personally bring him over to the dog run, give him his bathroom command, and wait nearby to make sure he uses it.  If you find yourself repeating this process, you may have to try another week of on-leash bathroom breaks before the habit sticks.

However, if Fido successfully and consistently uses his dog run, and you’ve got confidence that he’s learned this new habit, you can begin to slowly decreased your supervision; for example, from nearby in the yard, to on the deck, to at the doorway, to monitoring from inside, to no supervision at all.  At the final stage, you’ve got to trust that Fido is using his dog run 100% of the time without any help from you.  You can also begin to let your dog have his usual free time in the backyard, but remember to supervise him at first to ensure he keeps on track.  For those who have a dog who is prone to marking his territory, extra supervision will be required to ensure he’s not marking all over the yard, which can spread the scent and slowly lead to him using the whole yard as a bathroom area once again.

Of course, as simple as this sounds, dogs always seem to find the loopholes, and you may face challenges.

Some dogs may not readily take to the idea of going to the bathroom on gravel – or another surface – instead of grass.  As a result, to avoid using the dog run, you may find that your dog “holds it” until it’s time for the daily walk.  There are a couple of ways to get around this while still ensuring your dog gets his necessary exercise regime.

Knowing your dog’s typical bathroom routine can help.  If your dog usually goes to the bathroom near the beginning of the walk, you can try walking around the block and then returning to the dog run for a bathroom break.  Repeat as necessary.  If your dog usually goes to the bathroom near the middle or end of the walk, try breaking the daily one hour walk into two half-hour walks, finishing each with a supervised stop at the dog run.  Don’t forget to use your bathroom command.  If you’ve got to use these techniques, ensure your dog is only spending time in the yard during on-leash bathroom breaks.

If this still doesn’t work, try spacing out your walks (but maintain your typical feeding schedules).  For example, if you walk your dog from 7:00-8:00am on Tuesday, and then again at 9:00pm on Wednesday, your dog has still received an hour long walk each day, but now there is 37 hours between them – odds are your dog is going to need to go to the bathroom at least once during that time.  You just need to make sure you provide ample on-leash bathroom opportunities in the dog run during those 37 hours.

Of course, in the event your dog does do his business during the walk, don’t worry about it and certainly don’t punish him.  We don’t want to train our dogs into thinking there’s only one place in the entire world where they can go to the bathroom – just one specific place within in the confines of the yard.

If you’re worried about your dog opting to go to the bathroom inside the house in favour of the dog run, make sure he/she is supervised while in the house (perhaps by keeping him/her on hands-free/umbilical) and in a crate when unsupervised.

As your dog becomes comfortable and consistent with using his or her assigned bathroom area, ensure that the dog run is cleaned regularly, so your dog never thinks to look for a different, cleaner spot.  While scent is important to encourage dogs to use a specific bathroom area, an area that is too messy will discourage them from using it altogether.  It is also important to thoroughly rinse off the dog run once or twice per year to help control excessive odours.

Finally, as winter comes, ensure your dog still uses the same location even once it is snow-covered.  This will save you from having to re-train him or her every spring.

And of course, once you’ve trained your dog once, you can easily use the same process again to train him or her to go in another new location in the event you’re moving, going out of town, or simply relocating the dog run.

Happy training!

Sign available at jnmnt53's Etsy shop

To Ban the Breed?

To Ban the Breed?
Pit bull ownership: just another topic too controversial for the dinner table

Simply put, Ontario’s pit bull ban isn’t working.[i] Results of a recent (2010) survey reveal no significant drop in the number of dog bite incidents in Ontario since the provincial government passed breed specific legislation in 2005.[ii]

Similarly, studies in Great Britain and Spain have shown that their respective bans have had similar results (read: none). Further, the Spanish study found that the dog breeds most responsible for bites, both before and after implementing the bans, were by breeds not even covered by them.[iii] Of course, both of these jurisdictions are carrying on with their bans in place. 

The Toronto Humane Society’s spokesperson, Ian McConachie, sums it up when he says “dogs are not born violent… they are made that way by irresponsible owners who train them to be that way or neglect them and they develop behavioural problems. […] If we want to reduce the number of dog bites we have to address the root cause of the problem: those irresponsible owners who do not appropriately care for their animals”.[iv] 

So the question is what do we do now? Clearly there is a problem, and the misguided breed ban seems to be a failed solution. But where did this trend come from and why? What can really be done about these blood-thirsty unruly dogs and what apparently is becoming an epidemic? 

First, let face facts. As Clever Canines Behaviourist and Trainer Tracie Nielson teaches her clients, all dogs bite. There. It’s been said. Or perhaps more specifically, all dogs can and will bite given certain circumstances. Yes, even your kind-hearted Golden Retriever. So the cat (dog?) is out of the bag. When dogs and people interact, it can sometimes end in someone being injured. Now what? 

Well, in an attempt to curb the number of times a small child is met with the pointy end of 42 teeth, our benevolent public officials have taken it upon themselves to do what they do best: legislate. 

Like Dogs, Dog-Related Legislation Comes in Many Shapes and Sizes 

There are a number of different types of breed specific legislation, and canine-related laws span the globe. The most strict form is an outright breed ban where, under no circumstances, is one allowed to posses a dog of a particular breed. This is the type of ban present in Ontario. No one is allowed to own, breed, purchase, or import a pit bull. This legislation was grandfathered in to allow folks who already had pit bulls (or ones that were to be born within 9 months of the legislation coming into effect) to keep their pets, provided they spay/neuter them, only use a leash 1.8 metres long or less,[v] and muzzle them in public. In the event the dog is proved to have bitten or attacked anyone, or “posed a menace”, they are to be immediately euthanized. 

The City of Winnipeg is the only other place in Canada presently with breed specific legislation. Theirs dates back to 1990 and bans owning “Pit Bull dogs”, which are defined as “(i) Pit Bull Terrier; or (ii) Staffordshire Bull Terrier; or (iii) American Staffordshire Terrier; or (iv) American Pit Bull Terrier; or (v) Any dog which has the appearance and physical characteristics predominantly conforming to the standards for any of the above breeds, as established by the Canadian Kennel Club…”.[vi] 

In the alternative to breed bans, related legislation can also involve mandatory spaying/neutering, mandatory registration or licensing as a “dangerous dog” or similar status, breed specific insurance requirements, or size/weight restricts. For example, in Fairfield, Iowa, all dogs upwards of 100lbs are banned.[vii] These bans can apply to individual dogs with a history of aggression or to breeds as a whole. 

A group called the Responsible Dog Owners of the Western States compiled a list of all dog breeds for which there is some sort of ban or restriction somewhere in the United States, finding that there are 75 different restricted breeds the US, from the Airedale Terrier right down to the Wolf Spitz. I will give special mention to the following included breeds: Blue Heeler, English Springer Spaniel, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Komondor, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Pug, and Samoyed. 

Breed bans and restrictions are certainly not a North American phenomenon, either. Twelve countries in total have some sort of ban against pit bulls (pit bulls being the most common – and sometimes only – target of these types of bans). 

In Germany, ownership of pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, or bull terriers is banned and punishable by fines and a maximum of two years in prison. Great Britain authored its Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991,[viii] banning pit bull terriers, Japanese Tosas, Argentine Dogos, and Fila Brasilieros. The Ukraine has a Dangerous Breed List naming over 80 breeds, including several varieties of Bull Terriers, Bulldogs, Livestock Guardian dogs, Boxers, Briars, Labrador Retrievers, Welsh Terriers, German Shepherd Dogs and their mixes. The Ukrainian resolution also includes compliance requirements such as mandatory insurance and micro-chipping, restricted leash length, and muzzling dogs in public places, and further allows adapting municipal laws to enforce even more restrictions. In Ecuador, ownership of pit bull-types and Rottweilers is banned, and Venezuela has legislation pending for 2014 to enforce a ban on “pit bull-type” dogs. 

Why the Ban? 

In the United States, because state and local jurisdictions are afforded broad police powers, including protecting the public’s safety and welfare, lawmakers have not had trouble finding that breed specific legislation is rationally related to the issue of public safety from allegedly dangerous breeds of dogs.[ix] 

The reasoning behind these breed bans is easy to figure out: when dogs and humans mix, sometimes someone winds up wounded. In the United States, approximately 800,000 people per year[x] seek medical attention due to a dog bite.[xi]  Breed specific bans are an attempt to pin-point the repeat offenders, or the most dangerous dogs in the eyes of the public, and protect us from these menaces.  The bans usually come about as a reaction to a highly-publicised fatal dog attack. 

But one could argue – and I do – that such bans are misguided, have over-simplified the situation, and neglect a number of important realities. Not to mention they don’t seem to actually be preventing dog bites and other injuries. 

Problems & Criticisms 

1. While we appreciate Big Brother looking out for our safety and well-being, based on the numbers of dog attacks, you’re about 20 times more likely to get struck by lightening than you are to be attacked by a pit bull.[xii] Just sayin’. 

2. As we’ve heard, all dogs bite. Not just pit bulls. And we can now see that the pit bull bans in Ontario and elsewhere have done nothing to reduce the number of reported dog bites over time. Simple bites aside, many attacks – and even fatalities – can be attributed to dogs whose breeds are not widely addressed by bans, and to ban one or two specific breeds and their mixes does nothing more than enforce an incorrect breed stereotype and encourage “breed profiling”. Most pit bull owners will be happy to attest that their dog is loyal, loving,[xiii] gentle, trainable, and a good working dog. In ban-free areas, pit bulls have been successful police and rescue dogs, as well as general service dogs. 

3. We largely have the media to thank for public concerns about pit bull ownership. It is not hyperbole to suggest that one is more likely to hear of a pit bull attack on the news than, say, a poodle attack. And no, that does not mean that poodles never attack. It just means that it takes some extra searching to find the story of the Daschund who killed the elderly woman,[xiv] or the Jack Russell Terrier responsible for the death of a six week old infant.[xv]  Of course, prominent in the story about the Jack Russell was the fact that the family owned a second dog – a pit bull. That the pit bull was not part of the attack was not mentioned. 

An American report on media bias by the National Canine Research Council[xvi] compared the type of media coverage given for dog attacks that occurred during a four day period in August 2007. On day one, a Labrador mix attacked an elderly man, sending him to the hospital. News stories of his attack appeared in one article in the local paper. On day two, a mixed breed dog fatally injured a child. The local paper ran two stories. On day three, another mixed breed dog attacked a child, sending him to the hospital. One article ran in the local paper. On day four, two pit bulls broke off their chains and attacked a woman trying to protect her small dog. She was hospitalized and her dog was uninjured. Nevertheless, this attack was reported in more than 230 articles in national and international newspapers, on the major cable news networks, and was reported in far more detail than the incidents of the first three days. 

It is not a stretch to see how such news coverage influences calls for breed bans from the frightened public and its legislators. 

4. The statistics often cited to justify a breed ban and as “proof” that pit bulls (and other breeds) are truly heartless killers are dubious at best.[xvii] 

One particular example I will note is the frequently referenced study by Merritt Clifton,[xviii] which pin points pit bulls as the most frequent offenders of dog bites and serious attacks. This study has several key problems. First, Clifton leaves attacks involving dogs whose breed was uncertain out of his study completely. Second, he starts with biased breed definition; why does he classify a dog as a “Pit bull/Lab mix” or a “Pit bull/Sheltie mix”, rather than Lab/Pit bull or a Sheltie/Pit bull? It appears that whenever one of the stereotypically “dangerous” breeds is in the mix (e.g. pit bull, Rottweiler, Akita), that breed is listed first and the bite or attack is accredited to the first breed and not the latter. This can definitely swing the results, and for Clifton to then tell us that pit bulls and their mixes are responsible for 74% of serious dog bites and attacks has to be taken with a grain of salt. Not to mention Clifton got his data pool solely from press reports and not hospital records or animal services, which, as noted above, is highly problematic, allowing media bias to influence his results. 

Statistics on dog-related fatalities are more readily available than just simple dog bite incidents, and in Canada between 1990 and 2007 there were 28 human fatalities attributed to dog attacks.[xix] While some dogs responsible are listed as an unknown breed or generally as a mix, not one death is specifically attributed to a pit bull. 

In addition, as the National Canine Research Centre reports, the majority of dog-bite statistics are misleading since they include a number of animal exposures such as nips from excited puppies, scratches from a dog’s nail or tooth, individuals who are bit helping an injured dog, or bites by police K9 professional dogs while on duty.[xx]  All incidents are tallied up under one heading, and the specific circumstances of each bite are not accounted for. 

5. Have we learned nothing from Michael Vick? Pit bulls have their unfortunate involvement in illegal dog fighting partly to thank for the reputation of the breed as a whole. This, of course, is not at the behest of the dogs themselves, but due to the irresponsible, cruel, and morally reprehensible folks who buy, breed, or “train” these dogs to be aggressive specifically for the purpose of fighting. Until more is done to prevent these activities and punish the participants, we simply need to remember that the population of pit bulls and other dogs used for this awful purpose is not an appropriate representation of all pit bulls. To think otherwise would actually be judging a book by its cover, as they say.[xxi] Cesar Millan[xxii] himself is a big advocate of avoiding breed stereotypes; dogs are dogs. 

6. Although breed bans are well-intentioned, they inherently assume breed is the most significant factor in dog bites and related incidents, when several other criteria should be taken into consideration when looking at the issue. 

For instance, it should be noted that most (77%) of dog bites and attacks involve the dog’s owner or a friend, and over half of the bites occur on the dog owner’s property. Children are the most frequent victims of dog attacks, and of the 28 Canadian fatalities mentioned above, 24 of them (or 85.7%) were children under the age of 12.[xxiii] 

The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published a study from Oregon which analyzed the number of overall dog bites was and found lower income neighbourhoods produced more biting dogs of all breeds, and fewer dogs that were neutered, which is considered to be another biting risk factor.[xxiv] 

Further, in Canada, instances of dog attacks are disproportionately higher when involving multiple dogs and dogs in rural areas.[xxv] (This is not the case in the US.) 

7. Once a ban is in place, problems with enforcement become an issue. Who determines whether a dog is one of the banned or regulated breeds, and what is the procedure for that determination? In North Salt Lake, Utah, the city manager has sole authority to make those decisions. In other places it is animal control officers or even the mayor; no special training in breed identification is required. Some places have implemented breed bans without any input from a veterinarian, which would presumably be expert to consult regarding identification of a dog’s breed). Ideally, I suppose, the advance of DNA analysis for dogs is becoming more available to remedy the current methods of “canine profiling” and arbitrary enforcement. But because, in the US at least, the government has the burden of proving that a suspect dog is one of the breeds banned,[xxvi] cities will have to seriously weigh whether or not they will pay the high cost of DNA tests or simply give up trying to enforce the ban.[xxvii] 

8. Of course, the common – and largely unsuccessful – objection to these and related breed bans has been that the legislation itself is unconstitutionally broad or vague, and the terms used (such as “pit bull” or “wolf-hybrid”) are poorly defined if at all. 

It was on these grounds in Cochrane v. Ontario (Attorney General)[xxviii] that one Ms. Cochrane sued to attempt to prevent enforcement of the Ontario ban. She also argued that allowing the Crown to introduce a veterinarian’s certificate certifying that the dog is a pit bull as evidence violates the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. In the end, the Court of Appeal[xxix] found that her “over-breadth” claim failed since the legislature had acted on a “reasonable apprehension of harm”, and disagreed that the definition of “pit bull” in the Act was insufficiently precise. The court restored the original wording of “pit bull terrier” in the ban on the basis that, when read in the context of “a more comprehensive definition”, the phrasing “pit bull terrier” was sufficiently precise. The Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear further appeal and the thus ban is currently upheld in its original form.9. And finally, why are we banning dogs when it’s the owners we need to be addressing? Dogs do not bite without warning and rarely behave in an unpredictable manner. Dogs actually send very clear signals. As responsible owners (and ideally our dog’s Alpha figure), it is our duty to take steps to educate ourselves and learn to understand those signals. Dogs rarely bite without warning you first, and just because a human does not recognize that warning does not mean a ban on their existence is the only or best solution. A large number of dog bites and attacks could have easily been prevented with proper education. 

Further, dogs that have been labelled as “aggressive” or “dangerously insecure” often have mistreatment by owners to blame for their dispositions. In fact, National Canine Research Council reports that 84% of US dog attacks that took place in 2006 involved owners who abused or neglected their dogs, or failed to properly contain them.[xxx] Instead of legislating dogs by breed, we should be focusing on dog owners by competence. 

So What Now? 

Simple: better legislation. Or more specifically, better, owner-focused legislation that has nothing to do with dog breeds. 

Firstly, we can look at better enforcement of the dog ownership legislation currently in place. For example, the City of Calgary readily admits its animal by-laws are enforced on a complaint-only basis, when better enforcement of leash/dogs-at-large laws with adequate penalties for violators could help to curb the instances of dogs roaming loose or out of control. Calgary’s current animal by-laws limit leash length (2 metres/6 feet) and prohibit unsupervised tethering of dogs, which would be a step in the right direction if these laws were adequately upheld. 

There should be improvements to the laws that hold dog owners financially accountable for failure to adhere to animal control laws in place, and also hold them civilly and criminally liable for unjustified injuries or damage caused by their dogs. 

Instead of a breed ban, enact non-discriminatory dangerous dog legislation in its place.  Take, for example, the Michigan dog bite statute which specifies that “[i]f a dog bites a person, without provocation while the person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner of the dog, the owner of the dog shall be liable for any damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness”.[xxxi]  A law like this or similar targets the behaviour and the owner, rather than the breed of the offending dog. 

Dog owners that have been found guilty of violating animal laws should be adequately punished and monitored in the future. This is an area that will need improvement, as Ontario’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act does not prevent a person from owning another dog after an incident. 

There should be harsher punishments for individuals found guilty of abusing or neglecting their pets, and they should be prohibited from owning future pets and be monitored. Currently in Canada, animal cruelty – other than upon cattle – is a “summary conviction” offence, and not a more serious “indictable” offence, meaning the accused is only “liable to a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or to imprisonment for six months or to both”.[xxxii] Oddly enough, the penalty for uttering a threat to kill, poison or injure an animal that is the property of any person, is greater than actually being cruel to the animal, as it can be proceeded with as a indictable offence with attendant liability to imprisonment for a term of up to 24 months. 

We also need to address the existence of puppy mills, where dogs are being interbred and poorly cared for (both physically and socially). Cross-breeding within generations can create unhealthy and unstable dogs that are potentially very dangerous and prone to life-long behaviour issues regardless the amount of training and socialisation. Dogs removed from their parents too young (so they are still “cute” for the pet store window display) frequently arrive poorly socialised and may require extra training, care, and attention. 

In the US, where the population of abused, neglected, and rescue dogs is a serious problem, laws that mandate the sterilization of shelter animals and make low-cost sterilization services widely available are appropriate. 

And of course, proper training and socialisation for all dogs should be encouraged and promoted. While these services do not come cheap, perhaps discounted obedience for low income families could be offered by municipalities.[xxxiii] Or perhaps government tax breaks to a certain extent for pet owners is an option. Owner and community education when it comes to dog ownership and interaction is the best and most immediate solution to the problem. 

Once a ban is in place, by no means is it permanent. Legislation can be amended and reversed.  In April 2007, Italy revoked its dangerous breeds list and replaced it with laws holding owners more responsible for their pets’ actions.[xxxiv] In 2008 the Netherlands also revoked their fifteen-year ban on pit bulls, acknowledging that the ban was unsuccessful.[xxxv] Cincinnati also lifted their ban on pit bulls after finding the ban expensive to enforce ($160,000/year) and after a number of losses in court, including one instance where an owner sued after the seizure of American Bulldogs that were mistakenly identified as “pit bull mixes”.[xxxvi] 

In the Meantime… 

Until dog-related legislation makes rational sense and is properly enforced, there are some common sense steps the rest of us can take to avoid been a dog bite statistic and fuel for breed ban advocates. 

For Dog Owners: 

1. Train your dog! It’s very simple and is the best preventative measure. And this applies to owners of dogs of all breeds. Just because your Chihuahua is not big enough to bite deeper than the leg of someone’s pants, and can be picked up when he’s being a jerk, doesn’t mean he isn’t a dominant little bastard in need of some serious obedience training. According to animal behaviourist, Stanley Coren, Ph.D., when dogs are given a basic course in obedience training they are 89% less likely to be involved in a dog bite incident.[xxxvii] 

2. In relation to the above, avoid treat-training if you can. Now, I realise that suggestion opens up a whole different can of worms, but think of it this way: dogs who are constantly seeking food will be more likely to nip should someone’s small child still have the remains of his lunch on his face or hands. And then if his mother happens to report your otherwise friendly dog to animal services…. Well, the main point here is make sure you do not create a dog that is food-obsessed.[xxxviii] 

3. Be in control of all interactions between other people and your dog, or other dogs and your dog. Just because someone says “he’s so cute” or “I love dogs” does not mean they are automatically qualified to pet your dog. If your dog is too excited, or if the person makes you uncertain of how the greeting will go, it is okay – and recommended – that you simply not allow them to meet your dog and move on. If/when someone asks to pet your dog, it is okay to say no; they are not public property. 

4. Don’t leave your dog alone with children unattended. Ever. 

5. Don’t leave your dog tethered and unattended, whether it be outside of 7/11, in your yard, or in the box of your truck. You never know who will attempt to approach her or if she could possibly escape. 

6. Throw out your flexi-leash. You cannot control your dog (or keep them safe) when they’re 20 feet away. And it’s probably against the law anyway. 

7. Take steps to properly socialise your dog with other dogs and other people. A good training regiment will include this.[xxxix] 

8. If your dog does bite a person or another dog – no matter how serious – seek professional help to ensure it does not happen again.[xl] 

9. If you’re going to rescue a dog (through a shelter, rescue organization, or privately through adoption), do your research. Make sure you know what you’re getting into and you’re ready and willing to meet the challenges of the commitment you are about to make. Be prepared – financially and emotionally – to deal with any behaviour or health problems you may discover. 

10. If you’re going to get any dog, do your research; make sure you’re not supporting a puppy mill. 

11. Ensure your dog is properly exercised. Always. Interactions involving over-excited dogs with pent-up energy can often go south – quickly. 

12. Educate yourself about the laws and by-laws that affect you and your pet. If you see something you don’t like, canvass your representative for change. 

13. Be a courteous and responsible dog owner in general. Believe it or not, not everyone likes dogs, and sometimes they’re simply not appropriate to bring along with you. Make sure you always pick up after your dog. Also be sure to register your dog with the proper authorities. Those fees usually go to the maintenance of the municipal shelter and the dogs there, and the up-keep of your local off-leash parks – not to mention registration will ensure he’s returned should he get loose and reported to the local animal services. 

For Everyone Else: 

1. Never ever pet a dog without asking the owner first. Ever. Remember: all dogs have the capacity to bite. 

2. Never approach an unattended dog (even if they’re tethered). 

3. Never leave your children unattended with a dog and always closely monitor child-dog interactions. Note that children are the most frequent victims of dog attacks. Ensure your child remains calm and are not running around or screaming. Excited small children can trigger herding, protecting, correcting, and prey instincts in all breeds of dogs – all of which can lead to nipping, biting, or even attacks. 

4. When greeting a new dog, be calm. Teach your kids this. 

 5. Skip the baby talk: you’re just embarrassing yourself, the dog does not understand you, and it can cause excitement in the dog which can lead to jumping up and mouthing or nipping. 

6. If you’re scared of dogs and one is approaching, remain calm. Don’t scream, run, or stare at them in horror; simply move confidently away from them. If you’re scared of dogs, avoid off-leash parks. 

7. Don’t be afraid to report unruly or dangerous dogs, or dogs you suspect of being abused or neglected to the authorities. The animal by-laws are in place to protect you as well as the animals. 

This article has been reproduced with permission at CanadasGuidetoDogs.com and CleverCanines.ca.


Resources/Citations

[i]  The Toronto Sun, April 28, 2010: http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/04/28/13747081.html
[ii]  Toronto Humane Society: http://www.torontohumanesociety.com/
[iii]  http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2009/jul_aug/pitbull.html
[iv]  The Toronto Sun, April 28, 2010: http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/04/28/13747081.html
[v]  I completely agree. No dog ever needs a leash longer than 1.8 metres (approximately 6 feet), regardless of breed.
[vi]  The City of Winnipeg, The Pound By-Law No. 2443/79
[vii]  Read the ban here: http://cityoffairfieldiowa.com/utility/showArticle/?ObjectID=78&find=dog
[viii]  Northern Ireland has the same restrictions under the Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order, 1991
[ix]  Campbell, Dana (July/August 2009). “Pit Bull Bans: The State of Breed–Specific Legislation”. GP-Solo (American Bar Association) 26 (5). http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2009/jul_aug/pitbull.html.
[x]  Consider when reading this that there are approximately 74.8 million dogs in the United States.
[xi]  http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/50238067.html[xii]     Ibid.
[xiii]  At the risk of humanising.
[xiv]  Walsh, Barry (2005-05-18). “Dog mauling victim dies”. Chronicle-Tribune (Marion, IN).
[xv]  “Kentucky Infant Killed by Family Dog” http://www.wbko.com/news/headlines/13946527.html
[xvi]  (2008) Full report available on this website: http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/dog-bites/dog-bites-and-the-media/audience-interest
[xvii]  Always read the fine print.
[xviii]  Link to full text of study here: http://lassiegethelp.blogspot.com/2007/08/dangerous-breeds-dog-bite-statistics.html
[xix]  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2387261/
[xx]  http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/dog-bites/
[xxi]  You’re not supposed to do that.
[xxii]  Yes, the one and only Dog Whisperer. Highly recommended. Start with his book Cesar’s Way
[xxiii]   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2387261/#b12-cvj49pg577
[xxiv]   http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/50238067.html 
[xxv]  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2387261/#b12-cvj49pg577 
[xxvi]  Under Ontario’s ban, it is actually the owner’s burden to prove their dog is not a pit bull. 
[xxvii]  http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2009/jul_aug/pitbull.html 
[xxviii]  2007 CanLII 9231 (ON S.C.) 
[xxix]  Cochrane v. Ontario (2008 ONCA 718) 
[xxx]  http://www.aldf.org/article.php?id=1029 
[xxxi]   M.C.L. § 287.351; http://www.animallaw.info/articles/aruslweiss2001.htm#n47 
[xxxii]  Criminal Code, s.787. 
[xxxiii]  One could always argue that low-income people who cannot afford pets should not have them in the first place, but we all know this is nearly impossible to enforce and people are going to do what they’re going to do. It is no coincidence that dog bites in low-income neighbourhoods is disproportionately high, and something should be actively done to remedy the issue. 
[xxxiv]  http://network.bestfriends.org/10615/news.aspx 
[xxxv]  http://www.torontohumanesociety.com/newsandevents/stories/2008/08-08g.asp 
[xxxvi]  http://www.thedogpress.com/SideEffects/side_effects_leg_01.asp 
[xxxvii]  Quote from Dr. Coren, article from Canada.com, September 11, 2009. 
[xxxviii]  Or toy obsessed, for that matter. 
[xxxix]  See: www.clevercanines.ca  – all-encompassing dog training for dogs of any breed, age, or temperament. 
[xl]  Ibid.