Client Cases

Pixie and Dixie the Boxer-Shepherd Sisters – Reversing Littermate Syndrome

Boxer-Shepherd mixes Dixie and Pixie were found behind a restaurant in the city and taken to a shelter. These sisters were estimated to be about ten months old but weren’t considered bonded enough to be adopted out together. Thus, Dixie went to my client, an active woman who loved fitness and being out with her dogs. 

A few months later, my client got wind of the fact that Pixie was still at the shelter. She turned up with Dixie in tow only to lose her a few moments later, as Dixie had taken off to the kennel where she and Pixie had been, looking for her sister. It was clear to my client then that she had to keep the sisters together and so Pixie came home with them. 

Adopting siblings isn’t normally considered a good idea, as sibs raised together can display dysfunctions commonly referred to as “littermate syndrome.” These issues are believed to occur because fraternal bonds hinder the formation of healthy connections with humans and deter the development of skills to deal in a human world. The siblings can be inseparable or they can be in an all-out war, sometimes requiring that one of be rehomed.

In her message to Way of Life Dog Training, my client explained that the sisters’ “prey drive is starting to become a huge problem.” The girls had issues, not with each other but with anything smaller including other dogs, cats, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, as well as little kids. My client said she found it nearly impossible to go anywhere with the girls and missed her days of being active with them. I came to find out later that the sisters had ganged up on a few neighborhood critters, with unfortunate consequences. 

“I really need help,” my client said.

The problem with raising siblings is very much the same as raising dogs in a multi-dog household. The dogs do not need to be related for their fears of being apart to be dysfunctional, for their fights to be violent, or for the stress they feel from being codependent to manifest as reactivity and aggression. 

As a society, we seem to think that dogs need each other when in fact they don’t. Of course, some dogs thrive on the company of other dogs and model dogs are essential to healthy rearing. But we also know from both science and experience that dogs aren’t oriented to cooperation and sharing as their wild cousins are. The hunting among wolf packs is a collaborative effort; the scavenging of dogs isn’t. Problems start to emerge in multi-dog households when we assume that dogs can fulfill each other’s needs, can solve each other’s problems, and that they’re enough for each other.

So we went to work on the Twisted Sisters. We set separate schedules for them, including dedicated exercise and bonding time, crating, and hangouts in designated parts of the house. It was weeks before the girls left the property but when they went out into the world again, they did so with a different mindset. They were calm, relieved that someone finally understood how they needed to be managed. Their fence running ceased, and they became indifferent to dogs on the street. They showed little to no interest in the animals they would have once been happy to chase. Too often we think this behavior means we have “too much prey drive.” Sometimes it is a healthy prey drive that needs channeling and sometimes it is but a symptom of frustration and redirected anxiety. 

At seven years old, the girls were entering that stage of becoming more mature. They still put up a good bit of resistance – after all, it had been years of living constantly together, being treated as one, and not being allowed to individuate and mature on their own. So that needed some time to get undone. But I could tell from their eyes and greying faces that they were ready for some peace, that they wanted someone to make the decisions for them, and that they while they wanted to be challenged and engaged with, they also needed time to rest and recuperate in private. 

When my client left to travel overseas, we had established a way of life that worked for the sisters whereby my client’s aging parents were able to keep them during my client’s absence. Maintaining a schedule and hiring a seasoned walker who was given specific instructions, Pixie and Dixie were able to sustain a long absence from their owner. Their behavior not only didn’t regress… it only continued to improve.

Client Testimonial

Souha is a GOD SEND!!! Extremely knowledgeable, professional, and attentive. She really cares about the dogs and families she’s helping. Not only do the dogs benefit, but us as their families do as well. Her understanding of the TRUE needs of dogs and humans alike leaves both forever changed, grateful, and joyful. Thanks for everything you have done for Pixie, Dixie, and us and for your constant support beyond!

~ Claudia H., North York, ON

Molly the Cockapoo – Noise Sensitivity and Reactivity

Molly’s owners came to Way of Life Dog Training concerned with a range of issues displayed by their four-year-old Cockapoo. These issues had become increasingly hard to deal with, as they attempted to balance managing Molly’s behavior with the needs of their two very young children. Molly did like the kids and was excellent with them, thankfully. But much else was problematic: 

1. Molly was reactive to the noises that are typical of a home, especially one with children – TV sights and noises, and rings and whistles from various kitchen appliances.

2. She barked ceaselessly at the door and the living room bay window, which my clients thought she’d enjoy looking out of when they bought their house. This would wake up the kids and garnered my clients an anonymous note from a neighbor.

3. Molly also reacted to people and dogs on the streets, pulled on the leash, and despite her petite size, was impossible to walk, much less walk alongside the stroller.

The Way of Life Dog Training approach to working with issues of sensitivity to sound is not to desensitize and counter-condition the dogs to these sounds, as behaviorists do. In fact, my clients had worked with a trainer who used this approach, and just as I expected, the behavior modification strategy made Molly that much more aware of, and obsessed with, these sounds.

Regarding barking at windows and doors, this is a common issue because we allow the dogs to patrol our homes and yards, we allow them near these boundaries, not realizing that their inner territorial nature, plus any underlying stress that’s building up because of a messy way of life, will make them reactive to anything near these boundaries. Dogs are not cats; they do not need windows looking out into the world for entertainment. They need to be taken out into the world, stimulated, and brought back home and regulated, until a certain level of maturity is reached.

With reactivity to dogs and people on the street, a dog that’s stressed because it’s not handled properly is bound to redirect that stress onto something. Moreover, dogs change when they’re taken from one familiar space (the house) to an unfamiliar space (the outside), and with that change, any kind of underlying stress will show up more honestly and find something to beat up on. 

It’s normal for dogs to be sensitive to some of our noises. It’s also natural for dogs to be protective of their space and to not necessarily welcome interactions with all dogs and people. That’s all legit. Still, I know for sure that extreme versions of otherwise normal or natural behavior have a lot to do with a dog’s way of life. That is precisely what we work on.

Ultimately, a dog that’s composed will deal with things differently than one that isn’t. A calm dog is a thoughtful dog who is better able to modulate emotions and better judge what’s worth reacting to and what’s not. I ask my clients to look at these issues as symptoms and to reflect on why their dog is so easily triggered. 

Our job with Molly was to bring down the agitation by regulating her access to things such as doors and windows, structuring her time, supervising her more carefully, and challenging her innate talents. 

With the changes we introduced, Molly has settled down a great deal and everyone in the family is happier, the two kids included. When the family moved again, I was thrilled to hear that Molly adjusted seamlessly. She’s better able to deal with the various sounds of the house and take in stride the children’s ruckus. She and her mom look forward to the end of the day for their girls’ night out, leaving dad and the kids at home for a while to head out for a run or walk. 

Watch a video featuring Molly on our YouTube page to see her progress!

Desiree the Pug – The Once Reactive Puppy Mill Mom

Desiree, a puppy mill mom rescued from Newfoundland, was a pug that reacted to people, dogs, and children. My client realized she must have done things a little too fast with Desi, as she liked calling her, and proceeded to go back to basics. She wanted to be able to take Desi with her to visit her daughter and grandchildren, who were four and six years old. So, Desi came to board with me for a few days at a time.

Of course, boarding dogs allows them to be looked after when their people need to travel or deal with personal matters. However, boarding is also an opportunity to challenge dogs and the bonds they’ve developed with their owners. Before boarding, dogs should be comfortable crated and be stable enough to be transferred to another handler in an unfamiliar environment.

When I board dogs, I do with them what I tell people to do with a new dog or a dog they’re just getting started with—decompression. Because this dog is new here, we go back to basics with that dog instead of thinking we can pick up where its owners left off. This means extended periods crated, some solo time, and not much exposure to anyone or anything for a few days. This allows me to accurately evaluate the dogs and coach their owners better, as I can see how the dogs take to the challenge.

Moreover, the structured and challenging manner of boarding this way also helps stabilize and strengthen client dogs because it ensures that the handler transference is safe and successful. Once over the stressful experience, back home, and rested, clients tell me their dogs appear to have taken a jump in maturity, which was exactly the case for Desi. Her reactivity to people and dogs eased considerably because of boarding this way and my client felt encouraged about trying to have her around the children.

She worked up a plan of taking Desi for visits to her daughter’s house and, initially, worked solely on getting Desi adjusted to the new space without engaging with the kids. She went for short visits, keeping the dog crated or leashed up—in other words, carefully managed.

Over time, Desiree began to adjust and could be trusted with finding her way to the mat with the kids around. The experience not only boosted her self-confidence but also made her feel included and part of the family. In turn, I could see that rise in self-esteem when she boarded with us again because she was even better with the dogs this time. It was almost like boarding with us was nothing after she’d successfully dealt with the out-of-town visits and two rambunctious children! With the right foundations in place, we shouldn’t be afraid to push and challenge our dogs. Otherwise, we will never know what they’re capable of.

Client Testimonial

I have known Souha for over ten years. We initially met over our shared love of dogs and in that time, we have both fostered and rescued many dogs. My niche was for old and/or sick dogs whereas Souha leaned towards the dogs with behavioural issues. Even though my area of experience was with older and/or sick dogs, I would occasionally be asked to take on a sick dog that also had behavioural issues or would turn out to have behavioural issues that the rescue was unaware of.

In these cases, when I would contact the rescue, I would often end up getting guidance that just didn’t work or was impractical. This would lead to my calling Souha looking for help. No matter when I called, she was available to help me out. She always had guidance and tips that were practical and that I could use easily. She was totally non-judgemental and very importantly, gave me hope.

She gave me the confidence that I could deal with any situation and things would improve – very important when one is feeling overwhelmed and out of options. I would highly recommend Souha to anyone looking to improve their relationship with their canine companion. She is knowledgeable, non-judgemental, and passionate. Sometimes you might not like what she has to say but in your heart, you will know she’s on to something. It is always her goal to improve your relationship with your dog and she will work with you to do that.

Under her guidance, you will develop a greater understanding of canine behaviours and motivations. If you listen to her and follow her recommendations, your relationship with your dog will be transformed; this in turn will transform your life with your dog.

~ Anne Sayers, Scarborough, ON, Canada

Katie the Goldendoodle – Cheering Up a Puppy Mill Mom

What does it take to cheer up a puppy mill mom? How can we help a depressed dog get past years of abuse and neglect?

Katie is a doodle puppy mill mom who was finally able to catch a break from breeding and looking after one litter of puppies after another. She came with many health issues, some minor and others persistent. She also came with psychological issues but we could not really call these “behavior issues” in the traditional sense, meaning Katie is not reactive. She does not guard anything. She does not bark in her crate. She does not pull on a leash. She is not anxious. She does not suffer from separation anxiety. 

She was just happy to not be seen or heard. She was depressed, lacking in self-esteem, and not displaying enthusiasm for anything. My clients had her for a couple of months before she came to board with us. It was originally supposed to be a two-week boarding and it ended up being more than a month, and in that month, we were able to notice an incredible change. We shared with our clients the work we did, and which we know they have continued with zeal, as Katie would not be who is she today otherwise. Here are a few things we did with Katie: 

~ Rev up her desire for food: Dogs that are depressed like Katie are not necessarily gobbling food down and yet food is such a valuable tool in our feel-better toolbox. So we took several avenues to rev up her food drive including physically exerting her and waking up her senses to different smells. I often had her with me while I cooked in the kitchen and put meals together. Making her smell things, see the dogs get excited as dinner was being prepared, being around sights and smells – all helped wake up her senses. Even though she is on a restricted diet, we were able to add a few fresh foods to make her kibble more appealing.

~ Strengthen the body: Years in a puppy mill took their toll. She could barely walk without quickly running out of steam, having so little muscle tone. By the time she was ready to go home, she’d lost a few pounds, gained considerably in fitness, and was enjoying the benefits of physical exertion – eating fully and resting deeply.

~ Provide structure and crate/kennel time: As with any dog, and regardless of what we’re working on, keeping the dog on a schedule with copious amounts of time in the crate is crucial. This helps the dog on many different levels. The crate was easy for Katie and I thought the outdoor kennel would be too until I heard her bark in there. Believe me, we want this kind of barking from a dog that until that point had been mute. The kennel outside, as opposed to the crate inside, was enough to get her a little nervous, barking and kicking the bowls around, until she conquered and adjusted. She enjoyed the outdoor kennel greatly, frequently seeking it out whenever I’d have her outside.

~ Keep a heavy presence of the other dogs: I don’t normally include boarding and foster dogs with my other dogs except in short spurts, as needed, and as appropriate. But in this case, Katie needed the presence of other sound and healthy dogs. Their attitude towards her, and generally their attitudes towards many of the dogs I bring home, informs my own attitude towards that dog. The main attitude of all my guys was a far cry from feeling sorry or sad for her. Their attitude of polite indifference did wonders to motivate her to feel better so that she could be accepted. It was Bob who was most influential for her because she genuinely liked him, drawn to his swagger and confidence, while he was the most dismissive of her. “Look lady,” he seemed to say, “Toughen up and I’ll talk to you.” By the time we were nearing the end of her stay, it was clear that Bob liked her, as she instigated him to chase after pigeons and squirrels with her. He rubbed off on her.

~ Display the right attitude: This can be the hardest thing for many people to do and that is display the right attitude towards the dog. Simply put, we need to be careful about the affection and inclusion shown a dog with this kind of psychology, a dog that is this low on self-esteem and confidence. The attitude of my dogs around Katie is the attitude I embodied and it was basically: “Katie, nobody cares.” No one feels sorry and no one feels bad. All my dogs were aware of the dark place she was in, but that did not change their joy and serenity. I too kept an upbeat attitude around her and paid attention to her proportional to her effort to step up her game. 

As a result of these efforts, we saw many improvements including: 

~ An almost immediate willingness to do her business with us around, which she’d never done with her owners prior to that. This was later followed by a willingness to eat and drink in our presence. 

~ She had started off by hiding in the garden until her hiding area got closer to the house, until she no longer needed that hiding space and could just hang out at a distance from the others. 

~ She began to show interest in food, finishing her meals and taking treats, and closer to the end, she showed interest in toys as well. 

Most importantly, I could see it in the body language – the smiles, relaxed body, and wagging tails that we’d done our job and turned the page. Of course, much work remains to be done and healing will take time, but as I told my clients, “there is no turning back.” 

Katie has been back home for several weeks now and continues to improve psychologically, despite the persistence of her medical issues. We wish her and her family continued healing and happiness. You can watch a video on sweet Katie here.

Client Testimonial

When we adopted our sweet, gentle Goldendoodle Katie from a “breeder”, which we later discovered was a glorified puppy mill, she was a 7 year-old breeding mother who had been used for producing far too many, very expensive puppies. She had no previous experience in a car or a home and, from what we could see, had likely never experienced caring human behaviour. She had a badly infected and ulcerated ear, worms, an unexplained open wound on her back hip, poor teeth and was extremely skittish.

Even though we were experienced dog owners, it became painfully clear after only a few weeks that we needed HELP with Katie. That is when we found Souha, founder and head coach at Way of Life Dog Training, who set us on a continuing path to a much happier, healthier dog.

Souha assessed Katie at our home and started us on the path to developing a greater understanding of canine behaviours and the need for much decompression with Katie.

Through in-person and virtual training sessions, including Souha’s “To Raise a Dog” online course, as well as her boarding services we required for an extended period, Souha has guided us towards developing a better understanding of, and relationship with, Katie.

Katie is now more confident, has discovered that food tastes good, and is demonstrating more curiosity when exploring in the backyard. We now see her walk with her tail up and a “smile” on her face! The few times we haven’t been consistent in following Souha’s advice, the negative effects on Katie’s behaviour become readily apparent.

Souha continues to support us in building a deeper bond with Katie. She genuinely cares and has made herself available whenever we have questions or concerns. We will continue to work with her to allow Katie to heal and gain more confidence in order to make her a happy dog, living her best life!

Great progress, with much thanks to Souha!

~ Nicole Liberty, Markham, ON

Toby the Welsh Corgi Pup Human-Directed Aggression Turned Around

My clients did everything right. Or they thought they did. They chose a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, a breed that they identified with culturally but that they’d also researched thoroughly, finding these dogs described as “happy,” “intelligent,” and “fun.” I mean… what’s not to love about a breed described as such? Due to little experience with dogs, they were turned down by a few breeders, but one did agree to sell them a male pup they named Toby. They brought Toby home and a few months later, I was on a call with them. Turns out Toby had become fiercely aggressive towards my client and her husband. The incidents were escalating in frequency and intensity, and they were at a loss what to do. They blamed the limits on training and socialization created by the pandemic, but they also had a feeling that something was off in their relationship. As they said to me in that first call, “We don’t think he trusts us.” When I did the virtual introduction and asked for the phone camera to be pointed towards Toby, Al took me to the open crate where Toby was lying down. I know that if I were to approach any of my dogs sleeping in their crates with my phone pointed at them, at the very least they would get up to see what’s happening. Only Toby’s eyes moved up towards my client and his camera; the rest of him didn’t move. I could see how depressed he was. When we examined the situation together, we found that Toby was not stimulated the way an intelligent and driven breed like a Corgi should be. Nor was his way of life structured in any way that would meet his need for order and predictability. As well, my clients had a tiny crate set up in the middle of a large enclosure where Toby would shuffle around, at a loss as to what exactly was expected of him in this big space. The couple also related to him quite differently. The woman showered him with affection, as she’d waited a long time for her dream Corgi. The man, on the other hand, was more intent on teaching Toby manners and was the disciplinarian in the house. The challenge in this situation was that my clients were relatively inexperienced. We also had a dog who’d escalated his aggression and was looking for any reason to pick a fight. He would stage arguments by hiding under the cedars in their yard, refusing to come out when called, and then goad my clients into a fight. Still, I was blessed to find in my clients a couple that was open and committed to the changes I proposed. It was several months of us:

~ Crating Toby to bring the aggressive incidents to a halt, begin controlling his learning environment, and give everyone a breather from months of conflict.
~ Setting a schedule that included outings with specific training exercises as well as hikes, aiming to get Toby tired out physically and challenged mentally.
~ Ignoring all attempts by Toby to get into fights. If Toby wished to spend the evening by the cedars, he was welcome to do so. If he didn’t wish to relinquish his antler bone, that would be fine too.
~ Coaching my clients on physical as well as psychological handling mechanics that would minimize, if not entirely avert, incidents of aggression around doors, the crate, feeding, and any other resources such as chew bones and toys.
During this time, Toby sure gave us all a run for our money. But I must say, Al and Lana have showed remarkable courage and commitment, resulting in solid relationship improvements. There were also difficulties, including the discovery of a health condition that was in part responsible for a resurgence in Toby’s aggression a few months after we’d started working together. My clients have been able to ride out these setbacks and move forward. They have gotten to a good enough place to challenge Toby in ways consistent with his breed and personality. They continue to work with him and I was thrilled to find out that Lana was able to take Toby sheep herding, an activity I had encouraged and which we knew could make the world of a difference. My clients were among the very first clients of Way of Life Dog Training. I am grateful to have been challenged by such a difficult case and thankful for the outcome.

Watch our video of Toby here!

Client Testimonial

Souha and Way of Life™ Dog training has 100% changed the outlook as well as the relationship both my partner and I have with our dog. Souha was there for us when our dog was at the height of his aggression, where it felt like we were running out of things to do/try to curb the aggressive behaviour out of our dog. This wasn’t just anger, our dog was lunging, biting, managed to inflict wounds that required stiches. It’s not that way anymore. Souha has helped us, do exactly what her training name implies, develop a new way of life with our dog.

The biggest shift for me was to take a step back from traditional behaviour training for a while and decompress our dog. Let him actually ‘be’ a dog. Through virtual classroom instruction, and 1:1 sessions, my partner and I were able to re-engineer the relationship we had with our dog as well as clean out the aggression from his repertoire. This training certainly challenges both dog and handler and it will challenge you both to grow and develop your working bond as well as your knowledge of traditional dog training and handling. It 100% works, and I would recommend Souha and Way of Life™ Dog Training.

~ Alex T., Hamilton, ON