Welcome to the first monthly issue of the Way of Life™ newsletter! If you’re one of the many who responded to my survey back in March, you expressed a desire for more frequent contact, and we couldn’t agree more. The newsletter will be a little shorter but will continue to share the segments you’ve enjoyed the most, particularly reflections, tips, and seasonal suggestions.
With my upcoming book being such an important project in progress, I’ll also be sharing regular book updates. This is the work of my heart, a labour of love years in the making. I can’t wait to see it in your hands, or in your ears if, like me, you happen to love audiobooks!
Here is more about what you’ll find in this issue:
• In Reflecting on Our Bond, I ask whether we see dogs as friends or foes because how we work with them speaks to our assumptions about them.
• In Ask Way of Life, I answer a question about our training approach and share links to more client questions from the Weekly Q&A on Facebook.
• In Seasonal Suggestion, you’ll find out more about a local small business dedicated to native plant gardening, another one of my passions.
• In Paws for the Camera, I introduce you to Newt, a stunning Husky mix whose owners are wondering if they’ll be able to start a family one day.
I absolutely love hearing from my subscribers so please hit reply and tell us how we did in this inaugural monthly issue!
Hope you enjoy a warm and wonderful June with your dogs and any people and critters you hold dear!
Souha & Dogs
PS: Want to learn more about our counter-culture method of fixing problems for real and for good? Care to find out how you can apply the magic of this process to your own situation? Keep your eyes peeled for further communication from us with invitations for both virtual and in-person events coming up this summer.
Reflection On Our Bond
OUR DOGS: FRIENDS OR FOES?
“How do we deal with feeding?” asked my new client. Unsure what she meant, I asked for clarification. She explained that their previous trainers had advised they hand-feed their dog at every meal, as a way of preventing food aggression.
Sadly, this is not the only example of practices in the dog training world which assume that unless we do these things, our dogs will turn against us. With food aggression, people aren’t only advised to hand-feed dogs but to also touch dogs, talk to them while they’re eating, and take food away from them. We don’t see how pestering dogs while they’re eating is one of the reasons they start tensing up around their meals.
Related to this is the practice of taking things away from dogs and prying objects out of their mouth. One prospective client told me with pride how good their dog was in accepting having things taken from him. “Probably not for long,” I thought to myself.
How about the extreme socialization we subject dogs to, believing that unless we do this, they’ll become fearful, anxious, and reactive? Yet, such excessive socialization is in fact to blame for the very fearfulness, anxiety, and reactivity seen in dogs these days. These dysfunctions are their best way of coping with such exhausting social demands.
Sure, there are different ways of doing things. Yet, we need to be discerning about approaches that trust dogs and our ancient bond with them versus approaches that think dogs are wild creatures, ready at any moment to become hostile towards us. We need to consider whether the advice we receive sees our dogs as friends or foes.
We forget the centuries we’ve shared with dogs, this ancient bond that ties us together. Dogs have primal tendencies we ought to understand, cherish, and respect, for sure, but they are also a domesticated animal wired to please us and work with us. How we see our dogs will be reflected in the kinds of dogs we see – friends or foes.
Trying to get work done with your dog bouncing off the walls?
On a work call with your dog looking out your window and policing the neighborhood?
Preparing your evening meal with your dog underfoot and your frustration growing?
Having dogs settled is a skill we want our dogs to have. Therefore, trainers often teach “go to your place,” training dogs to go to a designated spot and stay there.
At Way of Life Dog Training, we emphasize raising dogs as opposed to training or conditioning them into certain behaviours. We think of settling down as more attitude than skill and want our dogs to think about finding their way to the mat and learning to settle on their own.
The “Mat Time” Exercise
The “Mat Time” exercise is one of our signature exercises where instead of using rewards to train dogs to go to their place, we create an environment conducive to dogs doing this without being told. When dogs learn things on their own, they can generalize that learning to other settings and situations.
The Mat Time exercise teaches dogs to stay nearby by giving them a mat, bed, or blanket to be on, within the space we are working with, instead of them being underfoot or leaving our space. With time, the dogs learn to “park” themselves close by anytime we’re not actively paying attention to them or engaging with them.
Keep things simple when you’re first getting started with this exercise, especially if you have a new dog or are working to fix behavioural issues. The exercise is about introducing the dog to being in the house with us in a restricted space and in a controlled capacity.
- Choose an indoor space where you will practice this exercise-the office while you work, the kitchen while cooking, or the living room while reading. Start with a space where you’re active and busy- the kitchen or laundry room as opposed to a TV room or office where you’re likely to be stationary.
- Close off the space with gates or barriers. Ensure the space is cleared of anything you don’t want the dog getting into. Have your mat in the space, preferably out of your way, with chew toys and a few treats.
- Bring your dog into the space with a leash on, a long enough leash that you can grab or step on if you need to. Do not ask your dog to go the mat. Simply drop the leash, ignore the dog, and go about your business.
- Allow the dog to explore the space. If they try to leave, grab the leash, and bring them back in without saying much. If they jump on the kitchen counter, get them off gently without saying much or making a big deal.
- Absent attention or instruction from you, and with nothing better to do, the dog will realize that the best thing is sit or lie down on the mat. They will have learned this on their own without us asking, luring, or training.
Give this exercise some time and end it with the dog being somewhat settled in the space, whether on the mat or not. If the dog appears agitated and unable to settle, bring the dog closer to you, help settle them down with some food, and take them to their crate. Don’t attempt the Mat
Time exercise when the dog might be too tired or too stimulated to settle.
Over time, you can build on this exercise by…
ab7743 Expanding to other spaces around the house.
→ Taking it outside.
→ Practicing without a mat to help guide the dog.
→ Training with stimuli at a distance that we want the dog to ignore.
→ Hiking and stopping for a break.
→ Attempting the exercise without a leash.
→ Practicing with stimuli at closer range.
In sum, the Mat Time exercise is another example of how we raise dogs
to learn on their own, as opposed to through training and conditioning. Learning to find a comfortable spot in our orbit by themselves is not only a skill but a manifestation of the sound judgment we seek to instill in our dogs.
Our client Molly the Cockapoo hanging out on her mat while dad feeds the kids.
Prior to working together, Molly pestered the children for table scraps, jumped on the counter, and made meals a nightmare.
Q: We have heard that trainers differ in terms of whether they use “positive reinforcement” or whether they use force and physical punishment. Which method of training do you use?
A: I’m happy to explain the Way of Life position on the often-contentious issue of “force” versus “force-free” approaches in dog training. Usually, I tend to get this question from clients who are concerned about the use of force, punishment, and corrections. I am happy to confirm that Way of Life Dog Training does not condone the use of methods that involve overpowering dogs, punishing, and “dominating” them in the old school ways. We do not use or endorse any tool that would give humans an unfair advantage on the dog including prong collars, choke chains, electronic collars, head halters, and no-pull harnesses.
Even those who call themselves balanced trainers, meaning they use a balance of rewards and corrections, don’t realize what happens to dogs when they are continually corrected even if the corrections are mitigated with generous and well-timed rewards. The impact on dogs’ self-esteem and confidence is tremendous and there is no denying the alienating effect that corrections create.
With that said, we do not identify with the positive reinforcement/force-free crowd either for many reasons. Instead of examining the root cause of behaviour, they think it’s enough to simply condition dogs to behave as we want them to behave. I don’t care how much food, praise, toys, and other rewards are used in the process, the over-emphasis on training and conditioning dogs is itself invasive and strips dogs of their natural ability to think. We create anxiety and reactivity when we suppress dogs’ natural intelligence with relentless behaviour modification, even if we’re using carrots instead of sticks.
Moreover, there are many in the R+ community who deny the role of the human and the importance of the handler’s psychology. Some go as far as saying that we do not need to be leaders for our dogs. Not seeing dogs for the animals they are, they want them social and polite. Meanwhile, they deny that there is a place for discipline in dog training. By not disciplining or carrying themselves with the kind of authority that inspires dogs to behave, they keep dogs infantile and therefore ill behaved. And while they go on criticizing remote collars and prongs, they’re down with head halters and no-pull harnesses, tools that are as offensive as any other.
Often, clients who end up with us will have tried both ends of the spectrum only to realize that while the question of reinforcement matters, there is much more to raising a good dog. With how much focus there is on training dogs, the result is that we’re having arguments over the best way to train them, not looking at the wider context where all that training is happening. Yet, if I try to change a behaviour without really working with the root cause, all I’ve done is suppress a dysfunction that will eventually manifest elsewhere.
In contrast, the Way of Life Method thinks of training as only one element in our overall rearing philosophy. We also consider the attitude and mindset of the owners and their relationships with their dogs. We explore the approach to managing space and boundaries inside and outside the home. We examine the owners’ understanding of socialization and how they went about it. We work with our client dog’s drives, aiming to harness and develop their innate tendencies and motivations. We go beyond training dogs to creating ways of life that produce well behaved dogs. This may or may not be what you were looking for.
The aim is to mature our dogs from the state of childishness that characterizes most dogs these days to the nobility and maturity of a sound and steady dog. On occasion, discipline will be needed but let’s understand what that discipline is. It is not punishment. It is not corrections using physical force or tools that use design mechanics to subdue dogs.
So what does this discipline look like? I grab the dog’s attention, simply calling the dog to me by saying their name or asking them to come. Sometimes I grunt, as if I am clearing my throat-“ahem!” Sometimes, a simple “hey, hey!” with a sharper tone or a snapping of my fingers will do.
When we have foundations, discipline, if ever needed, does not need to be harsh to be effective. When we have foundations, it matters to our dogs that we are not pleased, and they are eager to fix things. We also have the credibility to discipline, meaning dogs see our intervention as legit and it won’t hurt their feelings.
Interested in more answers to client questions?
Follow our Facebook pagefor the Weekly Q&A.
Here are a few highlights from last month. Click for the full article on Facebook:
Thank you for your excellent questions – please keep them coming!
Though a distant second to my passion for dogs, gardening is one of my serious hobbies. Recently, I’ve shifted to native gardening, a gardening philosophy that’s less about esthetics and more about sustainability, harmony with our natural environment, and restoring depleted ecosystems.
In seeking professional help to take my native gardening to the next level, I called on Sustainable Roots Ecological Restoration Inc. When co-owner Andrew came for a visit, dogs and my training business came up in our conversation. Andrew then shared the challenges that he and his wife Reid were facing with their dog Newt. It became clear that we needed each other and were meant to work together. We agreed on bartering planting services with training and coaching to get their girl to a better place (see Paws for the Camera).
Sustainable Roots Ecological Restoration Inc. is “dedicated to increasing local biodiversity” and their services include:
- Responsible invasive species management
- Pollinator garden design and installation
- Lawn replacement
- Seasonal cleanups
They also offer educational programs such as “Learning in the Garden” – a fabulous program to get kids working in the garden and learning about plants and pollinators.
If you know you could use your green space in a way that honours our natural environment, don’t wait to reach out to Sustainable Roots. Their commitment to native gardening (and to their dog!) is nothing short of inspiring.
Paws For The Camera
Now let’s talk more about Newt, a young Siberian mix from a Northern reservation, a little under two years old. Wanting their dog confident and happy, my clients hired a professional trainer to help them with the resource-guarding, territoriality, and chronic barking they were experiencing.
They were able to make some progress but only went so far with an approach focused on obedience training. Newt continued to be a challenge; she was so high-strung and weary of visitors that the couple wondered if they might be able to return to their pre-pandemic socializing and eventually grow their family.
When we met and decided to work together, we did three things I almost always do with new clients:
- Hold an in-depth conversation about behavioural issues and the differences between the mainstream way of doing things versus the Way of Life Method.
- Challenge the dog with appropriate physical exercise and exercises that channel the dog’s innate drives for food, toys, and games.
- Take charge of the dog’s life in the form of scheduling, crating, and providing opportunities for alone time.
The fact that our work began right as my clients were moving into a new home meant we had a unique opportunity to get started right in
their new residence.
After a bumpy start, we already have progress we can celebrate.
Newt is calmer, crating well after having protested vehemently for a few days. She even stayed quiet during an entire zoom coaching session! Her mat time (see Pro Tip) is also getting better with Newt on her mat, on her own, for longer and longer. My clients have a better handle on the dog than they ever did before and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Such is the magic of the Way of Life Method!
Pictured: Newt photobombing a picture of Ontario trilliums – her expression says it all!
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