Running dog

Owner Behaviour: The Magical Key to Grooming Calm Dogs

The first thing Sylvia MacDonald, K9’s owner, sees in the dogs that come through the front door of the shop?

The owner.

“We really look at the owner first because most issues stem from the owner,” Sylvia tells me. “We talk to the owner as we assess the dog’s behaviour. You can’t just approach any dog because we’re strangers, so we assess the behaviour of both.”

For Sylvia and dog groomers everywhere, it’s important to read the connection between dog and owner. Once that understanding is established and the groomer is comfortable with the relaxed attitude of everyone involved, only then do they put their hands in a the dog’s mouth.

1. How can people comfort their pets?

Dogs read their owners. The majority of their reactions are based on how their people react. The more calm and natural the owner is, the more relaxed the animal will be. Anesthetic-free teeth cleaning is a natural, non-invasive procedure so the dog will inevitably respond the same way the owner responds.

2. Do dogs read people?

“Absolutely.” Dogs are intelligent and they’re intuitive. They pick up on the energy of their people and the people around them. “If you’re really nervous it goes right down the leash,” says Sylvia.” Let’s say you’re walking your dog and you see a pitbull running at you – how will you respond? How will your dog respond?”

Whether you’re training a new pup or reinforcing habits like refraining from barking, it’s important to be assertive with your dog but it depends on the situation. Every dog has a different personality, just like humans. Once you tap into a dog’s personality training that dog will get easier, but understanding their owner’s personality gives groomers a headstart.

3. How do you know when to be assertive and when to be supportive?

It’s handy to know the characteristics of your dog’s breed. For instance, a sheltie is a very timid dog, so groomers like Sylvia are very careful and gentle when they work on their teeth. On the other hand, Sylvia approaches a growling cocker spaniel much differently. Another unique situation is the rescue dog who’s been mistreated. In that situation patience is key.

4. Is it difficult to build trust when you’re grooming a new dog?

It depends on the dog, their breed and their history. “Every dog has a unique personality and that’s what a behaviourist looks for,” says Sylvia. “What’s going on in that dog’s head? What was their history? How can we help this particular animal?”

Not only do dog behaviourists work to understand their animals better, a big part of their job is understanding the circumstances that helped shape that dog.

5. What’s it like when you finally establish that trustworthy relationship?

“It’s beautiful, as soon as a dog is confident with you he’ll let you do anything,” says Sylvia. Building a relationship from scratch and establishing trust with a dog demonstrates your ability and your willingness to take care of him. He or she knows you won’t hurt them and they know they can relax and go with the flow.

6. Ever thought about bigger game? Like cleaning alligators’ or elephants’ teeth?

“You know what, humans always say to me, can you clean my teeth? I always say no, you bite, the dog doesn’t. I thought about horses but I’m not a horse trainer or know enough horse training, so no, I’m going to stick with dogs.

“Working with dogs is what I know and it’s what I’ve always known.”

And for Sylvia, it helps that the dogs know it, too.


3 Ways to Help Your Dog Get Comfortable with the Toothbrush

Ever tried to shove your hand in the mouth of an angry child to brush their teeth? Well, the process is even less fun when it comes to dogs. Their teeth are sharp, after all!

But teeth cleaning is crucial to your dog’s health. The more you maintain your dog’s teeth the less you’ll need to visit groomers or veterinarians down the road. It’s an ongoing business for dog owners, but if you do it right then it can actually be an enjoyable experience.

Signs of poor oral health:

  • Bad breath
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Trouble eating

If you’re noticing any of these symptoms, bring your dog to a groomer right away. Otherwise, here’s 3 steps to take to avoid dental issues.

1. Start ‘Em Young

Young children are constantly putting things in their mouths in order to explore. Dogs are no different. If you start young then they’ll be more comfortable with something other than food in their mouth.

Gently playing with your dog’s mouth teaches them to trust that process. You can make it fun too – use peanut butter or another snack to help them associate contact with reward. Food rewards are a powerful way to build trust with your dog.

2. Slowly Introduce a Toothbrush

Once your dog gets comfortable with contact in the mouth, the next step is to get comfortable with the toothbrush. It’s a foreign object that can’t be eaten, so it’s tough to predict your pet’s reaction. Try using a treat like beef to associate the toothbrush with something positive.

Keeping the toothbrush close, use your fingers to gently massage the gums and the teeth in the front and back of the mouth. Again, this associates positive energy with the presence of the toothbrush so you can slowly start using the toothbrush full time.

Just like humans, bacteria is hard on your system. Your mouth and your dog’s mouth are breeding grounds for unwanted guests. Brushing your dog’s teeth regularly will help their oral health and ultimately help them live longer and happier lives.

3. Raw Food

The problem with a lot of commercial dog food you find on the shelf is that dogs only use the back teeth, the molars, to chew. The food is tough so its pushed to the back of the mouth. The result? The front canines and incisors aren’t used and therefore aren’t cleaned naturally through the eating process.

Raw food, on the other hand, utilizes all 42 teeth. It has tissue that slides in between teeth and acts like dental floss. Bones are handy as well; dogs will hold a bone with their paws and go to town using as many teeth as possible.

Happy Mouth, Happy Dog

There’s nothing worse than walking around worrying about your mouth. Well, dogs aren’t self-conscious enough to know when their breath is terrible, let alone when their mouth needs some serious attention.

The best way to combat poor oral health is to get ahead of the problems before they start by regularly brushing your dog’s teeth or by simply visiting a groomer or pet-health educator.

Like us! (Sorry for the shameless self-promotion, just couldn’t be avoided any longer!)

photo credit: Greyhound Run 2011.01.01 via photopin (license)

Tofino Dog Bed

Why Upcycled Canine is Revolutionizing Natural Dog Products in BC

Picture the sun rising over the horizon as you take your dog for a walk. The air is crisp, the trees are green and you’re clipping along without a care in the world. And your best friend is by your side the entire way home.

This is the image I got when I spoke with Sara Bartlett a couple weeks back. A year ago Sara started building a company called Upcycled Canine in order to offer consumers an alternative to processed, over-priced dog products.

“I’m definitely a dog person, we had five dogs at times when I was growing up,” says Sara. “I’m a big fan of the planet, too. Upcycled was created to chip in a little bit, to make a difference to the environment for people and their pets.”

Read on to learn more about the value of re-used pet products and why it’s crucial we take more care in choosing the material our animals sleep on each night.

Kelvin: Tell me about the path that led you to starting Upcycled. 

Sara: About a year ago I started looking at the market for products and it was obvious really quick that there was a need for eco-conscious products for my dogs. There was just not a lot to choose from on the market. So we looked at different options for supplies, came across ropes and other materials we could re-use to make nice products instead of buying new things.

So you’re saving time, energy and money. Creating natural dog products means less energy used because of the lack of manufacturing new products. 

Exactly. The whole focus has been on re-using things instead of going through manufacturers. Everything we use is local or upcycled materials. I’ve always been a dog person, I used to run a dog-walking and care company in Vancouver, but I sold that as Upcycled grew and now its my focus.

What was the philosophy of going through all the trouble to start an online store, a company and a philosophy of sustainable, natural dog products?

The goal was to put environmentally conscious products into the market, into circulation, products that are environmentally conscious moreso than the average product. It’s a labour of love, it’s a ton of work but we’re definitely passionate about we do and for the people who use it.

Check out Upcycled’s brand new colourful dog collars.

We have a certain type of customer who appreciated what we do and is passionate about the philosophy as we are. We’ve got a small cult following at this point, the people who are really focussed on this type of issues. Some people care more about hand-made materials and eco-conscious products. Our stuff is really geared toward the outdoors-type clientele but obviously anyone with a dog can use them. The products still look great, the insides of the products are natural and stylish at the same time.

What are some of the dangers of buying different things off the shelf?

There are quite a few issues, there’s the social aspect, you don’t know if it’s a ten year-old kid who sewed that dog bed together. You don’t know how it got to the shelf, those products could be made in China or Taiwan in some horrible factory that’s creating a damaging environmental footprint. Materials are quite cheaply made because large corporations are so concerned with cost. The environmental footprint, the energy to get it shipped and mass-produced is inefficient and our focus is completely different from that.

You work with a local organization, Our Social Fabric. How are your beds made?

They’re an organization in Vancouver, they take fabric from crafters, manufacturers, places like Lulu Lemon, Mountain Equipment Co-op, all different kinds of stuff. Sometimes those companies pay someone to destroy it or it ends up in a landfill. Our Social Fabric takes the materials by donation and they hold sales every month and sell it to the public at wholesales.

Check out Our Social Fabric textile recycling initiative.

If you could train a dog to do one magical thing, what would it be?

Well I have two dogs, one’s a Pom-Chihuahua, and the other is a Great Pyrenees Newfoundlander, so I guess if they ever could, I would go with turning the lights on and off.

Check out Sara and Upcycled over at their shiny new website, perhaps your pup needs a new eco-friendly leash/collar combo?

Beach Dog

What Our Pets Mean to Us (& Why It’s So Hard When They’re Gone)

Name the last week where you didn’t make some type of mistake.

Sorry for the negativity, but believe me, there’s a point to this.

So think about it, any mistake. A mixup at work, a speeding ticket, a dropped plate in the kitchen – mistakes happen, they’re a part of life.

Now, think of the last time your dog judged you for that mistake.

Empathy Minus the Judgment

What do our pets mean to us? First we should ask what we mean to our pets. Dogs, cats, hamsters, goldfish – it doesn’t matter what your pet is, they’re part of the family. They love us unconditionally no matter what happens. Well, cats might be another matter, but as long as we feed them, right?

Dogs are with us when we go for long hikes during gorgeous sunsets. They stand by our side when people break up with us. They comfort us when loved ones pass on. They even stand in support when our kids turn three and we start pulling our hair out.

Dogs are with us through thick and thin, a powerful symbol of family, love and support.

And they never have to say a word.

A Reflection of Character

Part of the reason we love our pets so much is how unique they become even though they look exactly like other breeds. Think about it – your Alaskan Husky, the big softy. Your Jack Russel, curious about everything. Your … cat. Just, angry at everything.

Our pets remind us that it’s alright to be unique in a world where everyone is supposed to buy the same clothes and the same gadgets. Dogs don’t care what they look like when they’re mindlessly chasing butterflies in the park, so why should we care what we look like when we pull the ol’ jogging pants out of retirement?

We shouldn’t care. If humans were more like pets then we wouldn’t be self-conscious about our weight, our hair or wearing that AC/DC shirt from 1982.

(I wasn’t alive in 1982, but still.)

Plus, your dog would most likely love to help you get back in shape!

When They’re Gone

Animals, with us to the end, teach us not only about their lives, but about our own mortality. They die earlier than us in most cases, and they remind us to live our own lives to the fullest.

They develop special bonds with our children, teaching them unmatched love and appreciation for the things we have while we still have them. Indeed, they inspire our children in ways we could never imagine and never hope to replicate.

But the hardest thing about watching our animals die? Well, it’s also the best part:

They don’t say anything. They quietly go to sleep without requiring anything from us – not a painful goodbye or another forced sentence. They let us live on with the knowledge we gave them a good life.

And in return, they gave us something we could never find anywhere else.