Tarahill Cairn Terriers &
Wags to Wishes K9 Training 

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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.  

Waiting for the Mexican Elevator

Posted by k.mcclean on January 13, 2013 at 12:55 PM Comments comments (0)


This is a link to a blog post by Laura VanArendonk Baugh.  It is well worth the read and illustrates several very important principles in dog training.

  • reinforcement is all around us 
  • why reinforcement timing is important
  • what can go wrong when expected reinforcement does not occur.


The Dog Whisperer

Posted by k.mcclean on January 13, 2013 at 12:55 PM Comments comments (0)


This article addresses the run-away phenomenon of "dog whispering".  Training and behaviour management techniques based on dominance have been popularized by several high profile trainers or groups.  People love it - or hate it.  This article treads carefully through the controversy and highlights the evidence about dominance and use of forceful training methodologies.  If you think you would like to try the techniques promoted by popular dominance trainers please read this carefully.

Top 10 Mistakes in Behaviour Change

Posted by k.mcclean on January 13, 2013 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (0)


Like most people I'm not really keen on being told what I am doing wrong - and I don't like presentation titles that focus on what's wrong.  But this little presentation of only 12 slides is one of the best I have seen in a long time and it is full of positive messages.  It is intended mostly to help people change their own behaviours but  it absolutely nails the principles of changing behaviour in our dogs.  Here is a outline of the 10 behaviours with the canine equivalent. (But please do follow the link and go through the presentation - and look at the solutions which also apply so well to training our dogs.

#1 Relying on willpower for long-term change....this sounds suspiciously like "my dog should just behave because he wants to please me".  Positive reinforcement of desireable behaviours is the key to effective behaviour change for our dogs.

#2 Attempting big leaps instead of baby steps... the essence of successful shaping of new behaviours is splitting the behaviour into tiny steps.

#3 Ignoring how environment shapes behaviours...an important principle of behaviour change is to change the antecedents (the context) in which the behaviour occurs.

#4 Trying to stop old behaviours instead of creating new ones....teaching what "not to do " is much harder and less durable than teaching our dogs a new "to do".

#5 Blaming failures on lack of motivation ... in the canine world we often blame it on stubborness or disrespect - or a host of other qualities we use to label our dogs. Make the right behaviour easier is another key principle in changing canine behaviour.

#6 Underestimating the power of triggers... we might prefer the term 'elicit' rather than trigger but the principle is the same.  Another key principle in behaviour change: address the triggers.  Identify and modify, eliminate or change them into a cue for a different (desireable) behaviour.

#7 Believeing that information leads to action...ever heard anyone say about their dog's misbehaviour "he should just know better"? If this does not work for us humans, why on earth would we expect it to work for our dogs?

#8 Focusing on abstract goals more than concrete behaviours... How true!   Abstract goals usually end up being 'labels'.  Labels are dangerous things - they mean different things to different people and they often imply fixed qualities.  They  make behaviour change overwhelming.  An example might be helpful:  We all want our dogs to be calm when it is time to invite visitors into the house - what many people have is a frenzy of barking when the door bell rings and a flash mob at the door (especially if there is more than one canine occupant!). Instead of asking for "calm" (which means precisely what?) how about a clearly defined behavioural goal? I want my dog to sit quietly on his mat while I open the door and let people into the house..  Now there is an achieveable goal and one that I can now develop a training plan to build.

#9 Seeking to change a behaviour forever, not for a short time....I can hear people saying...but isn't the point of changing our dog's behaviour to make it a permanent thing?  Yup - almost always. But the point here is that we need to sustain the behaviour over the long term - remembering the role of antecedents (including context and elicitors)  and positive reinforcement to maintain the value of the behaviour for the dog.

#10 Assuming that behaviour change is difficult....  So right - it is mainly the mistakes we make (#1-9) that make it difficult.

For more on this see tinyhabits.com

What behaviour would you like to change?  Right now I am working on not having all 4 of my adult dogs try to charge out the door at the same time.  When I get home from workk they are all so excited -  the best way to get rid of the excess energy is to send them outside.  I have fallen into the trap of reinforcing the behaviour by allowing them to crowd the door and jostle for position to be first out (because getting rid of the noise and exhuberance by sending them outside is positively reinforcine to me