Tarahill Cairn Terriers &
Wags to Wishes K9 Training 

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This is a random collection of canine oriented things: tips, ideas and questions that are worth sharing. 

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Help! My boy puppy is lifting his leg on everything!

Posted by k.mcclean on October 25, 2018 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (13)

Leg lifting and marking is an normal / instinctive male dog behaviour. Some boys are more likely to develop the habit of doing this indoors than others and this is a frequent reason why people resort to early neutering.  If you have a young male puppy here are some things you can do to minimize the likelihood that your puppy will become an indoor marker.

1. Close supervision - while your puppy is growing up you will want to keep him under close observation - crating, Xpens and umbilical training are all strategies you can use to help prevent your puppy from relieving himself and marking in the house.

2. Belly bands - for boys that have already started marking indoors a belly band can protect your furniture. Most boys will continue to mark despite the belly band and you need to be careful to make sure he does not develop skin irritation from wet bands. Some boys will still be able to direct urine out from under the belly band so these are not great solutions but they can help.

3. Discouraging the development of a marking habit -

  • Start by putting peeing on cue. Start this even before your puppy starts to pee lifting his leg. As soon as you see him squat (or if he is already lifting his leg to pee, as soon as he siddles up to something to lift his leg) say the cue "go potty".  Repeat this every time you see him start to pee. Reward him for peeing on cue.
  • When you walk your dog, allow him one or two pees to make sure he has a chance to empty his bladder. Take him over to something appropriate to lift his leg on and give your 'go potty' cue.  After that, do not allow him to lift his leg on anything.  If he starts to lift his leg, use a positive interrupter and an upbeat 'let's go' to encourage him to move on.  You may want to allow one more pee before he goes indoors.  While you are on your walk, do not avoid objects he may want to lift his leg on, but always be ready to gently and positively redirect.
  • Be sure to clean thoroughly any urine marked areas indoors - use an enxymatic cleaner such as Nature's Miracle or 50:50 vinegar : water solution.  You can purchase a special flashlight at pet stores that will help you locate areas where marking has occured and dried.  These old spots need to be thoroughly cleaned too.
  • Be especially vigilant if a new dog enters the household as marking is a way of establishing territory and introduction a new dog often trigger increased marking.
  • Castration will  reduce the frequency of urine marking in most dogs but it will not completely eliminate it. ~80% of dogs are reported to decrease urine marking with up to 40% of dogs showing significant improvement.  This potential benefit needs to be considered against the risks associated with neutering prior to sexual maturity.
4. If you are already past prevention...
  • If your dog is habitually marking in a particular spot - do a thorough clean with an enzymatic cleaner intended for removing urine.  If the area is carpetted, you may need to wet down to the underlay to thoroughly get rid of any residual odour.  Do not allow your dog access to the area until complete drying has occured. After the area is dry try moving your dog's bed to the area.
  • Teach your dog the 'go potty' and 'no marking' under #3 even if he is well into a habit of marking indoors.
  • Use a positive interrupter if you catch your dog in the act, then take him outdoors immediately, praise him and reinforce heavily when he pees outdoors.
  • Some trainers recommend putting a couple of drops of your dog's urine on a bandana and having him wear it whenever he is indoors. The theory is that he now carries his smell with him and this reduces his need to mark.  I cannot vouche for the success or this method.
  • Do not punish your dog for failures - this will only encourage him to do it behind your back and won't stop the behaviour.

Make your own snuffle mat

Posted by k.mcclean on February 7, 2015 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (14)

I first heard about snuffle mats about 6 months ago and archived the idea for "when I can get around to it".  So, at long last, with no classes to teach, no work brouight home, and a rainy Friday evening I finally got to it.  This is a great toy for entertaining your dog (on a rainy night:) and for encouraging him to use his nose to search, and build value for searching.

You can buy kits on line - but they are so simple that you really don't need to do that. And I'm kind of a do-it-yourself kinda gal.

Here is what you need:

  • a sturdy box cutter
  • fabric scissors
  • antifatigue mat with holes 
  • fleece - How much you need will depend on the size of your mat and how wide you make the strips.  A one foot square mat will need between 90 and 100 strips of approximately 2 inches wide.  If you are buying fleece, you will need approximately 1.8 yards of 45" wide fleece. This is a great way to use up left over pieces of fleece or you can get creative with a variety of colours and patterns

Step 1: Cut your antifatigue mat to the size you want. I used a mat that had one foot square sections so it was easy to cut along the section lines but it does require a large size box cutter and fresh blade.

   The original mat was 2" x 3" - this is after I have already cut off two sections. The mat has crinkly edges on both ends. YOu can see the crinkly edges on the bottom of th emat in the picture. These need to be trimmed off.

   One foot square section with the 'crinkly' edge trimmed off, ready to start adding the fleece strips.

Step 2: Cut your fleece.  Depending on the size of the holes in your mat, you may need to adjust the width of the strips. I suggest cutting a few trial strips first to see if you have the right width for your mat.  When the mat is finished you don't want to have any "holes" left - the fleece strips should fill the holes so food does not fall through.

Cut the strips ~2 inches wide and 45 inches long. Cut each strip in 3 equal lengths (will be ~15 inches long).  Precision is not critical - I cut my pieces freehand, but if you prefer you can measure, mark and cut.  The length is not critical and you can adjust according to how long you want them. For very tiny dogs, you may want shorter 'tails'.

Step 3: Start filling in the mat with the fleece strips.

   Fold a strip in half.

  Poke the folded end through a hole forming a loop.

   Tuck the ends through the loop and pull tight.

Complete the row and move to the next row, filling in the whole mat.  Once the rows are all completed, finish the side edges by adding strips into the edge holes.

If the fleece does not completely fill the holes you can add more strips on a horizantal direction between holes. (You can also do this if you want more strips or more elaborate patterns - you will need to use narrower strips in order to get more of them into the holes.)  For the mat I used, 2 inch wide strips and filling in on the horizantal only worked perfectly. The whole process took me about 2 hours.

That's it!  Turn the mat over, hide some treats here and there between the fleece strips, stand back and let you dog explore!  If you dog is not used to using his nose to hunt for food, give him lots of encouragement, use larger treats and 'hide' a few in plain site on top of the strips.

   Completed mat.

   A treat tucked in between the strips. Once the fleece strips are pulled back in place, the treat is invisible.

    The back side of the mat.

Aoibheann loves her mat!

How Dogs' see and why what you wear matters

Posted by karen on February 5, 2014 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (0)

An interesting article with some food for thought for those of us who are training for performance sports.


Interactive toys - help for dogs that need something to do!

Posted by karen on December 14, 2013 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I love interactive toys - they keep my dogs busy when I need them out from underfoot, they help my gulpers to eat slowly, they stave off boredom on those long days when it is too cold, too hot or too rainy to go outside.  Interactive toys are a life saver if you have a dog that just cannot seem to burn enough energy off with physical exercise to keep them from being bored and destructive.  Some are useful for dogs that need to be on restricted exercise programs and are getting bored or frustrated.  Whatever the reason, interactive toys are a good investment.  There are many different ones out there, of course, not all are suitable for every dog, but with the burgeoning interest in interactive toys, there is bound to be one (and probably many) that are appropriate for any dog.

Here is a selection of some of the interactive toys in my house.

I especially like my swivel star by Dog Games puzzle toys for my puppies - this is a great toy to get young puppies into searching for food and working at something.  It moves very easily so even little pups can make it work. When they are still too small to 'play' with it, they learn to climb on and around it, then as soon as they are eating dry kibble, or little bits of solid food I place food in it with the segments opened up.  It is not long before they are pros at getting every last morsel from it even when it is presented to them closed up.

I like my Dog Pyramids when I am ready to give my dogs a physical work out and I don't mind the noise of them crashing it into walls and furniture. This is not a "quiet time" toy and not very suitable for using inside a crate. They are quite sturdy and both the small and large versions are suitable for my Cairn terriers. Be prepared for demands for them to be retrieved from under furntiture and other dog inaccessible locations!  The weighted bottoms make sure that they return to the upright position and limit the amount of food that comes out when they are tipped over.

For more quiet times, and a bigger challenge these two toys are better - they can be used in a crate.  The orange version is a Hartz toy.

You will notice that the flying saucer toy in the top picture looks a bit battered - thanks to my not very bright decision to take it to a dog training class where a dog that was much too big and too strong a biter had his way with it before we retrieved it.  So - be sure to assess the suitability of a toy for your dogs strength, play style and behaviours. One of my Nina Ottoson toys (see next paragraph) has a rather battered piece due to a careless moment on my part when a puppy ran off with a piece and chewed off several chunks, fortunately without ill effects to the puppy. Supervision is important!

There are other more complicated types of interactive toys - many of them require closer observation of the dog or active participation by the handler. Nina Ottoson has a variety of interesting and fun dog activity toys designed to make dogs think and problem solve - these are especially useful for dogs that need a mental workout on those days when physical workouts are not possible.  Check out her toys at http://www.nina-ottosson.com/

All dogs can benefit from the mental stimulation provided by an interactive toy but they are especially valuable for dogs with behaviour problems resulting from boredom or excessive energy. Interactive toys give your dog a job to do.  If your dog has no history of working for his food, start small and work up so that eventually you can deliver his entire meal in an interactive device. Clicker trained dogs and especially those that are familiar with shaping are usually very quick to catch on to intereactive toys because they have developed skills in experimenting with their behaviour to see what works. Dogs trained through aversive or punitive methods may take a bit longer to warm up to interactive toys as they may be hesitant to try new things.  If your dog does not charge in and "take charge" when you present him with an interactive toy, show him that you are hiding treats inside and show him how to get hem out. Reinforce him a few times for interacting with the toy even if his interaction is not successful in getting a treat out. Most dogs will quickly warm up to the game and in not time at all he will be successful, if you have chosen a toy that is appropriate for your dog.

Maybe YOUR dog would like a new interactive toy for Christmas!

Winter woes - or Keeping your dog from going crazy when it's too cold to go outside

Posted by karen on December 14, 2013 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)

It's winter in the west and already bitterly cold.  Only early December and the crew is already unhappy about venturing outdoors for more than a quite pee. Thankfully I have small dogs and we can get in a fair amount of exercise in a small space, and I have a training building they can run around in to burn off some energy if we need to.  But what do you do if  you don't have space, or have a big dog? Or one that needs more than just some tug play to keep him happy? The following suggestions are not only good for driving away the winter boredom, they are good for dogs that are "busy bodies" and find undesirable ways to keep themselves occupied if you are not getting in 4 long walks a day!

  1. Interactive toys - There are many different interactive toys out there.  Many need to be used under supervision - especially ones that are wooden, have small pieces or can be crushed, broken etc by a vigourous chewer, so this is not something to turn your dog loose on when you leave for work in the morning. They are however valuable tools to keep your dog from being bored.  Feeding all your dogs meals in an interactive toy is a great way to help him eat more slowly, make him use his brain and body to get the food and keep boredom at bay.
  2. Train, train, train - Training is a great way to exercise your dog's mind - you may have already observed your dog coming home from a class and crashing for a few hours. Mental exercise is as valuable as physical exercise in tiring a dog - and for highly energetic dogs can be even more effective than a long session of physical activity.  Training that actively engages your dogs brain - especially training that involves use of 'shaping' to get behaviour is a powerful way to give your dog a workout. 
  3. Give your dog a job - Teach your dog how to do things around the house. Once he has learned simple tasks, you can put him to work through the day as you go about daily activities. Simple service dog behaviours like closing doors, bringing you objects, opening cupboards etc are great examples of things you can teach. Check out Jesse's repertoire of tricks for ideas you might want (or not!) to teach your dog. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9Fyey4D5hg
  4. Indoor exercise routines - If it is just too cold for outdoor exercise, do some indoor physical activities - tugging games, puppy push-ups (rapid sequence sits and downs +/- stands), walking on a treadmill or working on a balance ball are all indoor physical activities that don't require a lot of space. Rally obedience exercises are also doable in a small space and are a gentle physical workout for your dog.
  5. Games - Games that engage your dog's attention will help wear off some of that energy that can so easily get diverted into destructive behaviour.  a) Find the treats - take a handful of kibble or other dog treats and hide them all around a room.  Start with easy "hides" and even hiding treats in plain sight until your dog becomes proficient and understands that his job is to search out all the treats in the room. Gradually make the game more challenging.  b) Nose work or secnt work games engage your dog's natural scenting ability and are fun for most dogs. c) Free shaping games using any novel object are also great exercises for many reasons.  First, they provide a great mental workout, secondly, they help your dog become a more proficient shaper - and you too. In free shaping you present an object to your dog and click - reinforce any behaviour he offers related to the object. The idea is not to achieve any specific interaction with the object, but to see how many different behaviours your dog can offer with relation to the object. The beauty of this exercise is that the pressure is off - the dog is never wrong - and you don't have to get any specific behaviour out of the game to be successful.

For more about shaping - go to

For ideas about nose work games - go to:

Turn those long winter days into FUN, FUN, FUN for your dog!


Are Two Puppies Better than One?

Posted by karen on October 12, 2013 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Are you thinking of getting two puppies? I often hear from people who thought this was a great idea - until they started having problems with house training, or undesireable behaviours.  Unless you have a great deal of time to invest in training two puppies at once, and are prepared for the additional challenges of two puppies at once, and especially two adolescent dogs at once, when they reach that stage, you would be wise to start with one puppy.  When the first puppy is adjusted, well on the way to having the foundations of good behaviour established, and has bonded with you. then you can look at adding another puppy into the mix. 

The URL will get you to a good article with plenty of food for thought if you think you might like to get two puppies and some important suggestions for how to work with those puppies if you already have them.

Happy training!


Mixed breed / Pure Breed

Posted by karen on June 8, 2013 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Which is better?  A mixed breed dog or a pure breed dog?  This question can generate a great deal of heated discussion and many people are firmly in one camp or the other.  An oft cited reason for promoting mixed breeds is the health issues sometimes seen in pure breed dogs. But how true is this?  Certainly there are breeds that have been deliberately bred for exaggerated features - brachicephalic breeds have issues with breathing and heat tolerance, dogs with long backs are prone to slipped discs etc.  These issues are inherant in breeding for the physical structure that is part of the breed standard. But from the perspective of genetic health, are pure breed dogs less healthy than mixed breeds?

The evidence is limited.  A recent article sheds a little light on this question but we need to be careful to consider the limitations of the study.

Prevalence of inherited disorders among mixed-breed and purebred dogs: 27,254 cases (1995–2010)

Thomas P. Bellumori, MS; Thomas R. Famula, PhD; Danika L. Bannasch, PhD, DVM; Janelle M. Belanger, MS; Anita M. Oberbauer, PhD


To state the obvious, it is of course, the genetic health of the parents that plays a key role in determining the genetic health of the offspring. This is true whether or not the dog is of mixed or pure parentage.  A good breeder puts great effort into selecting both physically and genetically healthy parents to give her puppies the best chance for a long and healthy life. Tests are available for many genetic defects and breeders will have their breeding stock tested for problems common in their breed.  They will also track the pedigrees of their sires and dams to watch for evidence of health problems in previous offspring that might signal a problem.  They will want to knwo about health issues occuring in their dogs even after they have been sold.  Some breed groups have extensive health pedigree registrations and actively track health problems to assist breeders in making good breeding choices.  Chances are, if you are getting a dog from a good breeder, your puppy will be backed up by a great deal of information and careful decision making aimed at getting the healthiest, soundest possible dog (and the best temperament).

Sadly, this is not true of all 'pure breed' dogs!  Not all breeders are concerned about the health and well being of their puppies.  Puppy Mills are high intensity breeding programs that often produce poor quality puppies with significant health issues, including genetic disorders.  Puppy Mill breeders may be dog lovers, but their primary motivation for breeding is profit.  They are looking for "cute and cuddly" quick sale pups.  They have little if any concern about what happens to the puppy after it is sold and are generally not interested in hearing about health problems arising later in life. They may continue to breed dogs that have been demonstrated to produce genetically unhealthy offspring, especially if the pups are very attractive and sell quickly.

Casual breeders are people who typically have a nice dog and for a variety of reasons decide it would be nice to have a litter of puppies - while well intentioned, they rarely have the expereince or background to help them make the best choices in identifying a mate for their dog.   A mate is often chosen simply based on convenience, availability or physical appearance. The breeding is rarely backed up by knowledge of the breeding pairs genetic history and there is usually no long term committment to the health of the pups.

What about the new "designer breeds"?  These are dogs that often have two pure breed but different breed parents and go by a variety of cute names such as schnoodles, puggles etc.  An arguement for these 2 breed combinations has often been that they are less likely to exhibit genetic disorders, but is this a reasonable assertion?  Combining two breeds may reduce the likelihood of a breed associated autosomal recessive (two abnormal genes required for disease to occur) genetic defect, assuming that both breeds do not carry the gene.  However, many genetic disorders have complex inheritance patterns and combining two breeds may actually introduce the risk of a broader range of genetic disorders.

Be aware that CKC registration is NOT a guarantee of a well planned breeding.

So what about mixed breeds? As with pure breed dogs, the risk of genetic disorders is determined to a large extent by the genetic health of the parents. Simply being a mixed breed is NOT protective of genetic abnormalities. Unfortunately for mixed breeds, we rarely know anything about the genetic health of parents or the pedigree of the dog.

So what to do?

  1. Do your homework! Regardless of whether you are leaning toward a pure or mixed breed dog, resist the tempation to impulse buy / adopt and learn as much as you can.  Health is only one consideration amoung many that should be taken into account.  Be sure to get a dog that is appropriate to your lifestyle and capabilities. Carefully assess temperament.  Learn as much as you can about the breed or breeds that make up your dog. 
  2. If you want a pure breed dog - find a reputable breeder with a good track record. Look for a breeder who ascribes to the CKC ethical breeding guidelines, who is a member of the breed club and who can explain what she does to ensure the genetic health of her puppies.  Find out what health testing she does on her parents and puppies.  Learn everything you can about the health issues that have been identified in the breed.  Avoid puppy mills and backyard breeders - and know the 'red flags' to watch for.
  3. If your heart is with a mixed breed dog look for a well structured dog that moves easily and does not have exaggerated features. Be aware that there may be surprises in your future - of course this is true with any dog.  There is no guarantee of perfect health with any dog, but as you will likely know little about your mixed breed dog's genetic history, there is a wide range of potential problems that may arise.
  4. Don't buy from pet stores - most pet store puppies come from puppy mills and the risk of future health problems is high.  By buying from a pet store you are keeping puppy mills in business. 
  5. Consider a putting aside some money for a "health fund" or purchasing health insurance for your pet.
  6. And above all - love the dog you have!

Spear Grass

Posted by karen on May 19, 2013 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (2)

Ahhh - at last.  We skipped through spring with our endless winter and summer is practically upon us.  What's not to love about a Saskatchewan summer?  Well, spear grass for one thing!  It may look lovely growing in the field but it can cause serious health problems for your dog (and big dollars for you if your dog needs veterinary care because of it).  Spear grass also goes by a variety of other names that reflect it's nasty reputation: foxtail grass, porcupine grass, needle grass etc. There are over 60 different species found around the world.

Spear grass is a common name for any type of wild grasses that has barbed seed heads.  The seed heads are carried on structures called awns.  The awns are very sharp and quickly and easily transfer to anything in their proximity.  Because of the structure of the barbs, the awns cannot back out if they become embedded in the dog's skin or mucosal surfaces (nose, mouth, genitals).  Movement causes the awns to penetrate more deeply and they can migrate into deep tissues causing pain, infection and tissue damage.  Seeds that become embedded in the ears, eyes, throat and nose are especially dangerous.  Seeds have been found in almost any body organ including the spinal cord and have been know to migrate all the way from a footpad to the lung.

Spear grass is at it's most dangerous when the seed stalks are dry and fall easily from the plant - from late spring to early fall....or most of our nice walking season.

Protect your pet from spear grass by learning what it looks like (google 'spear grass images' for photos; the Field guide URL below has drawings but the pictures are much more helpful) and avoiding risk areas.  If you notice spear grass in areas you have been walking with your dog, check for attached awns.  Especially check the ears and between the toes and pads of the feet as these are common sites where spear grass hides.

Some varieties of spear grass found in Saskatchewan include:

  • Awned wheatgrass
  • Green needlegrass
  • Richardson's needlegrass
  • Western porcupinegrass

For more information about spear grass....

Health risks of early puppy socialization

Posted by k.mcclean on March 27, 2013 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Many people still recommend delaying socialization activities that include contact with other dogs until puppies immunizations are complete even though there is increasing evidence that the risk of infectious disease is low, and that more dogs are surrendered and even euthanized as a result of poor socialization than die from infectious diseases.

"Socialization" includes a broad range of exposures and activities, much more than just learning how to get along with people and other dogs.  A well socialized puppy is confident, resilient and gregarious - the kind of dog most of us are striving for.  Socialization should begin LONG before you get your puppy - the key socialization period is from week 3 to week 16.  The breeder's role in socialization is critically important - and when getting a new puppy you should pay particular attention to what the breeder has already done to socialize her puppies to a broad range of things that they will experience later in life. When you get your puppy, ideally not before week 10, you will need to continue those activities.  It is a good idea to plan ahead as those first couple of weeks with your puppy go by all too quickly.  Line up a puppy class before you get him so that you can start classes right away.  FInd a puppy class that allows you to start immediately if you can.  If you have to wait 6 weeks for a new set of classes to begin, you will have lost important time.  Make sure the class uses postivie reinforcement principles in their training.  When puppy play is part of the class make sure the following principles are applied: play periods should be brief so that no one gets overaroused, play should be carefully supervised to make sure that no puppies are behaving inappropriately and no one is overwhelmed, and play should take place between appropriate puppies - not all puppies are appropriate to play together. Ideally, the trainer should help you learn what is and is not appropriate play and how to read the body language of your and other puppies as they play.  Puppy classes should NOT be a free-for-all of puppy interaction

When should puppies start classes?  Puppies can start going to group classes as early as one week following their first vaccinations. Choose a class that requires all puppies to be immunized and a dedicated young puppy class if possible.

The benefits of early socialization are undeniable but what about the infectious disease risk?  Below are several links that describe some of the evidence that suggests that the infectious risks are low - and possibly no higher than risks for puppies that do not go to classes.



http://avsabonline.org/resources/position-statements ; (scroll down to puppy socialization statement)


A well socialized puppy is a happy puppy - and will make it possible for you and your puppy to take advantage of many opportunities and activities that will be difficult or impossible if your puppy is not well socialized. 

And just to close on a personal perspective - there is a huge difference in each of my dogs.  My oldest dog did not go to puppy classes until after she completed immunizations - and it shows.  She is often stressed around other dogs and has a rough & tough play style that can be intimidating. She is wonderful around people, but I am always very vigilant around other dogs and alert to any possible negative interactions.  My second dog is a rescue who came to me after 6 months of age.  He is not aggressive but he does become easily stressed around dogs and I need to be careful to not ask too much of him.  My third dog went to agility trials, dog shows and classes with me from day one and she is very comfortable around other dogs and often serves as my 'assistant trainer'.  My recent litter of puppies, who started puppy classes at 7 weeks are amazing around other dogs -  gregarious and relaxed with great play styles.  What a difference a few weeks can make!

What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage

Posted by k.mcclean on February 17, 2013 at 10:50 PM Comments comments (0)


From nagging to reinforcing: a wonderful story from the New York TImes about applying the principles of positive reinforcement training in a human relationship.  The author describes how she began using the principles of postive reinforcement in her marriage and the changes that resulted.