Tarahill Cairn Terriers &
Wags to Wishes K9 Training 

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Wags to Wishes - 'The Dog House'

Location:  100 418204 21st Street, Okotoks T1S 1A1.  We are about 4 km from the Chinook Honey Company, off 434 Ave.  Please note that the location does not show up in GPS or Google maps under the address.  The location is pinned in Google maps under Wags to Wishes K9 training but using the app to find us drops you on 16 St West just below our location on the top of the hill.  If you are coming after dark, look for the line of purple and blue lights along the eaves of the training building as you come along 16th street (look up!). Once you see the lights, keep going on 16th street to the stop sign (intersection of 434 Ave West (TWP road 200) and 16th street. Turn RIGHT at the stop sign. Go 1/2 km to 21st street west and turn RIGHT again. Go all the way to the top of the hill through the wooden fence and the metal gates.

About Me
  • Karen Pryor Certified Trainer
  • Certified Trick Dog Instructor - All Star Trainer
  • Certified Canine Conditioning Fitness Coach
  • CGN Evaluator (CKC)
  • Animal Behavior College Authorized Mentor Trainer
  • Living and Learning with Animals Professional Course (Utah State University)
  • A level Barn Hunt Judge #231A
  • Certified Stunt Dog Judge

I am / have been active in a wide variety of dog sports with multiple dogs.

  • Conformation
  • Agility
  • Sporting Scent Detection
  • Earthdog
  • Barn Hunt
  • Obedience
  • Rally Obedience
  • Therapy Dog and Paediatric Therapy Dog

Training Philosophy

My goals in working with you to train your dog are to:

  • help you build a strong, positive and trusting relationship with your dog,
  • help make training an enjoyable activity that you and your dog do because you want to, not just because you need to, and
  • help you achieve your training goals whether they be simply to have a well behaved family pet, prepare your dog for a Therapy Dog or Canine Good Neighbour test, or engage in performance sports and other activities

I promote force-free, positive reinforcement based training techniques because they work - and because they support a strong and healthy bond between handler and dog without the risks associated with training techniques that involve coercion, punishment and force. Use of force-free, positive reinforcement techniques create a safe training environment for your dog. Training will become the best part of your dog's day and he will quickly learn to offer creative behaviours.  He will become your enthusiastic partner in the training process.  For more about positive reinforcement training refer to Clicker Training 101 on the resources page and check the links page.

Why do I use food in training?
Food makes a great reinforcer for training because it is easy and quick to deliver.  Small, good quality treats and, if necessary, adjusting your dog's meal allowance will mean that you do not need to fear your dog becoming overweight.  It is almost always possible to find a variety of treats that will be highly motivating for your dog. Food allows us to keep reinforcers interesting by using a variety and to vary the reinforcer strength easily, reserving the highest value reinforcers for the most difficult or important behaviours.

Using food as a reinforcer is not the same as using food as a lure. With luring, food is used to draw the behaviour out of the dog - in many cases the dog simply follows the food rather than paying careful attention to his behaviour. When lures are used beyond the first few repetitions, the behaviour can easily become dependent on the presence of the food - the food becomes embedded in the cue for the behaviour.

When food is used as a reinforcer, the behaviour is offered first and only then does the food enter the picture.  When using a marker (verbal or clicker), the hand offering the food should remain still (and unobtrusive) until after the marker, and the food should be out of sight.  In this way, behaviour does not become  dependent on the presence of food - the food is not involved until the behaviour is complete.  When the behaviour is trained, if it is important that the dog be able to do the behaviour with only occasional food reinforcers, we can move to an intermittent schedule of reinforcement - meaning that food reinforcement occurs randomly, not after every, or a set number of repetitions.

Other reinforcers: in addition to food, there is a wide variety of other reinforcers available to us.  Toys and play are great reinforcers if your dog enjoys them.  Using toys as reinforcers may take longer - but there are many creative things you can do with toys that you cannot do with food.

Life rewards are things your dog wants to do - such as greet another dog, or chase a gopher.  These things make great rewards when they are safe, and available at the right place and time. Life rewards are more difficult to control so generally are not used as much in training classes, but they are very powerful reinforcers and when we can take advantage of them, they can be very effective in moving training forward.

Praise and petting may be reinforcers - but not all dogs find them sufficiently reinforcing to work around distractions, and for many dogs there is very little to no reinforcement value.  (Be honest now, How long would you keep on working if your boss decided instead of a paycheck,  you should simply be happy to work for the occasional pat on the back and a "nice work"?)  We can increase the reinforcement value of praise by, when reinforcing with food, adding some verbal praise as you deliver the food.  Praise takes on some of the value attached to the food.  Praise is rarely as strong a reinforcer as food or tugging but it is something you always have at your disposal, so it is very worthwhile to build your dog's value for praise.  

In classes, I encourage use of anything that your dog finds valuable provided it is safe and not distracting to other class participants - but food is the primary tool we use.

Why do we need to use reinforcers?  Some trainers and owners feel that dogs should just want to work for their handlers - they should not need reinforcers.  Indeed there are some breeds that have been bred to be highly attentive and responsive to handlers.  However, this approach ignores basic and universal principles of behaviour that apply to all species: the consequences of behaviour affect future behaviour.  Behaviour that is reinforced, increases.  Reinforcers are all around us - some we control, some we cannot.  Some are obvious, some are not.  Sometimes something we think should be reinforcing to the dog isn't - and vice versa. If you feel your dog should just work for you without needing reinforcement, consider if you would continue to visit the grocery store if the shelves were always empty at that particular store.  It might take a while if you have a long history of finding what you want at that store, but eventually you would likely stop going if you repeatedly found the shelves empty. And if your paycheck stopped coming, it likely wouldn't be long before you looked elsewhere for work.  Finding the products we want / need and getting our paycheck are just two examples of everyday reinforcers that affect our behaviour - reinforcers are all around us.

Why don't I use corrections in training?
Many people find it difficult to conceive of training their dogs without use of some form of correction / punishment and there are a number of high profile, popular trainers who role model use of force and punitive techniques in "transforming" difficult dogs.  What the reader or TV viewer does not see is what happens behind the scenes, what is carefully obscured by camera angles, and what happens after the trainer has turned the dog back over to the family.  While some dogs may do well, many do not.  There is ample evidence that use of force and punishment in training contributes to increased  aggression, misdirected aggression (aggression directed at something other than the source of the punishment), anxiety and learned helplessness. Corrections and punishment can seem like a quick fix - but the long term negative consequences are costly to the dog and often to the handler and other people or animals. In contrast, positive reinforcement techniques are effective in both well socialized and problem dogs without the these harmful side effects that can arise from using harsh, forceful or punitive techniques.  Positive training is NOT permissive training - in fact positive reinforcement training is a very effective way to teach boundaries and appropriate behaviours that are sustained without the use of devices like shock collars, e-fences, prong collars etc.